Groups urge broadband provisions in package

Public safety organizations and advocates for 911 call centers have urged Congress to include emergency response broadband provisions within the broadband spending in the economic stimulus package.

The House bill includes $6 billion to expand broadband in rural areas and areas with little service, while the Senate measure has $9 billion for broadband. The money would primarily pay for grants and tax breaks to build those networks. The programs would be administered by the Commerce and Agriculture departments.

Although those commercial broadband networks presumably could accommodate many broadband public safety needs, emergency response groups are calling for explicit provisions to help create a national broadband capacity for public safety.

The Public Safety Spectrum Trust hopes that President Barack Obama’s stated support for public safety communications networks will result in explicit provisions for those networks in the stimulus package. The trust was designated by the Federal Communications Commission in 2007 to establish a public-private partnership that could run a national broadband network serving both commercial customers and first responders.

“I’m optimistic that the encouraging words of the president will motivate members of Congress to include some form of funding for a nationwide communications network for public safety in stimulus legislation now working its way through the House and Senate,” Harlin McEwen, chairman of the trust, said Jan. 26.

In December 2008, the trust called for $15 billion in stimulus spending for such a network. In Obama’s homeland security agenda released on the WhiteHouse.gov Web site Jan. 22, he describes plans to name an executive with responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of interoperable communications plans for public safety. Obama also mentioned support for public safety communications networks in his radio address on Jan. 24.

A group representing 911 call centers also is seeking provisions in the stimulus legislation. “There can be no more critical infrastructure than the 9-1-1 systems relied on by the public and the emergency communications systems used by those responding to emergencies,”  the National Emergency Number Association, which represents 911 call centers, wrote to House and Senate leaders Jan 23.

The group is asking Congress to put a priority on 911 call center needs in the economic stimulus package. These needs include investment in infrastructure and access to advanced services networks, both wired and wireless, and the services and applications for safety organizations enabled by such networks, including the establishment of IP backbone networks and the application layer software infrastructure needed to interconnect numerous emergency response organizations, the association's letter said.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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