The FCC voted Tuesday to take further steps to ensure that
the nation's public safety broadband network is interoperable nationwide, that
is, whenever the government can finally figure out how to set aside spectrum
and spur creation of such a network.
The FCC commissioners unanimously approved a two-part item.
The first was an order designating the LTE
mobile communications standard as the broadband platform for the network, the
second asked for comment on creating a technical framework, including
coverage requirements, network architecture, security, robustness and
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday that the
FCC was not usually in the habit of picking tech platforms and standards, but
that this was an exception to ensure needed interoperability. FCC Commissioner
Robert McDowell, who is even less a fan of government picking tech winners and
losers, said he also supported the decision to require use of LTE given
the "unique" circumstances, but said he appreciated the commission
seeking further comment on how other platforms might fit into that regime
in the future.
The FCC tried back in 2007 to auction the so-called D block
spectrum in the 700 MHz band for a public-private partnership on such a
network, but set a reserve price higher than anyone was willing to bid.
McDowell objected to that approach at the time, and pointed
out Tuesday that, had that auction not failed, the public safety might be in a
better position to partner with those companies today.
Genachowski has said that the interoperable network could cost between $12
billion-$16 billion over the next 10 years. He has also said,
and reiterated Tuesday, that the private sector is not going to pay for the
network on its own dime.
More than one commissioner pointed out Tuesday that it had
been almost 10 years since 9/11 and seven years since the 9/11 Commission
recommended the creation of an interoperable public safety network. FCC Commissioner
Michael Copps said the country was nowhere near where it needed to be in
terms of first-responder communications.
It has since taken some steps to further the process,
including granting waivers for local emergency network creation, but the
network can't be built until there is money to pay for it, FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski pointed out at the open meeting Tuesday.
The FCC proposed in the national broadband plan to try to
re-auction the D block to commercial users, with the caveat that they would
have to turn over their networks to first responders in an emergency. The FCC
tried to auction it once before for that public/private partnership but failed
to draw a minimum bid.
The public safety community has argued that a partnership is
not the right way to go.
Genachowski put in yet another plug for mobile broadband,
saying that technology could help deliver on the 9/11 Commission
recommendation, including allowing for the sending of video, photos and data in
real time, and allowing for on-site scanning and diagnostics.
Bills from last Congress are expected to be reintroduced in
Congress soon that would help create/pay for the network, including one
originally introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.)
that would fund the network with treasury funds collected through an incentive
auction for reclaimed broadcast and other spectrum.
A source following the issue said Rockefeller could
re-introduce a version of his spectrum bill as early as today (Jan. 25).
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