FCC considers state, regional public safety networks

States, cities and counties are petitioning to form their own networks

The Federal Communications Commission has another challenge to its plan to create a nationwide broadband network for public safety needs — four state governments and more than a dozen cities and counties are applying to set up local and regional public safety networks immediately in the same bandwidth in the FCC's plan.

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is considering 13 petitions for waivers for authority to deploy public safety broadband systems on a local or regional basis. Those systems would operate in the same 700 MHz bandwidth currently licensed to a trustee for the purpose of the FCC’s proposed nationwide broadband public safety network, the commission said in a news release on Aug. 14.

The District of Columbia, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and North Dakota, along with Boston; New York City; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco; San Jose and several other cities, have petitioned the FCC to create their own broadband networks for first responders.

The petitioners claim to have sufficient funding available to deploy their own such networks, either on their own or with partners. The state and city officials seeking waivers say they can deploy those networks in advance of the FCC’s completion of the proposed nationwide network.

The petitioners also assert “that these deployments can be accomplished in a manner that may be integrated into any such network resulting from the Commission’s rule-making,” the FCC news release said.

The FCC has been working on plans for the nationwide broadband network for emergency officials for several years. The plan originated in Congress, which ordered the radio spectrum to be made available for public use as broadcasters converted to digital television.

In 2007, the commission designated the Public Safety Spectrum Trust as the license holder for 10 MHz of bandwidth in the 700 MHz band. In 2008, the FCC attempted to find a buyer who would agree to share control of the spectrum with the trust and would make the spectrum available to public safety crews in emergencies. However, there were no successful bidders. Since then, the FCC has been preparing for additional rule-making for the public safety network. The FCC also is preparing a general National Broadband Plan under the economic stimulus law.

The public safety spectrum trust is conditionally supporting several of the 13 petitions for waivers, provided that sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure integration of any such networks into the FCC’s nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network, the FCC said. The trust is recommending that it and the FCC provide specific guidance on technology standards and system requirements to fulfill those conditions.

The FCC is inviting comments until Oct. 16.

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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