It's Way Past Time to Create a National Wireless Public Safety Network

Carl Weinschenk

Some things seem to just take too long. NewsFactor carries an Associated Press report that says the White House is backing a plan to dedicate 10 MHz of spectrum - the "D" block, according to the story-for a nationwide wireless public safety network.

The story provides good detail about the political and regulatory machinations, including the fact that a 10 MHz block already exists for this purpose. Putting the two side by side will constitute a good foundation going forward, according to the piece. The story says that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.VA) has introduced legislation to make this happen.

The reaction is that setting aside bandwidth for first responders and other emergency personnel undoubtedly is terrific. The second reaction-which occurs about a nanosecond after the first-is to ask: Why it is taking so long? Shouldn't such a network have been created sooner, say about a week after 9/11?

On one level, it is possible to say that a swatch (or two) of bandwidth as big as what the government is talking about wasn't available until recently. Perhaps. But there is no doubt that a way to cobble together enough bandwidth to let firefighters, police, emergency personnel and others communicate fully could have been found. Remember, these folks help people every year, during hurricanes and other weather-related emergencies .

With the emergence of advanced wireless networks, schematics of buildings and video from security cameras can be sent to first responders in route and other helpful steps can be taken. There simply is no reason such technology isn't common in the world of tablets, smartphones and other advanced devices.


The administration's backing of the use of D-block for a national public safety network isn't the only recent news in this area. Last week, the FCC decided that Long Term Evolution (LTE)-the leading 4G networking platform-will be used for the network. That's no surprise, but still is important. Subsequently, at least one company-Alepo-has introduced equipment that optimizes LTE for emergency uses.

The bottom line here is pretty simple: Get it done. Slade Gorton, a former Republican congressman from Washington who calls himself a fiscal conservative, also mentioned 9/11 in a guest editorial in The Seattle Times. He is in favor of the FCC's approach:

While the 112th Congress may be sharply divided over many issues, both parties have an opportunity to address this vital national-security priority by supporting the FCC's broadband plan for public-safety communications. Quite simply, I believe it is the best way to guarantee that a national interoperable network is built for first responders in both urban and rural areas.

The good news is that a fairly thorough Google search turned up no stories of any systemic communications failure during the Tucson tragedy last month. As horrible as it was, the actual shooting was over quickly. It is entirely possible that a longer-term event would have resulted in the same issues. The message is clear: It is time to create a network to meet first responders' needs. Indeed, it was time a decade ago.



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