Locals push for public safety broadband network
The earthquake that shook the East Coast in August — and which jammed commercial wireless networks, preventing public safety officials from using those networks to respond to the emergency — moved several local government associations to renew their call to Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum for a national interoperable broadband network for public safety. Legislation that would allow reallocation has moved out of committee in the Senate and is being worked on in the House, but no decisions are expected at least until the super committee completes its work by the end of November.
Some lawmakers and FCC officials have advocated auctioning the D Block and establishing a system that would provide public safety agencies access to commercial networks during times of emergency, according to American City & County's sister publication Urgent Communications. But the August earthquake highlights the reason why such a strategy is flawed, Sean Kirkendall, a spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance, told Urgent Communications.
Alternatively, the “SPECTRUM Act” that would allocate “sufficient wireless spectrum” for public safety has been proposed in the Senate, and work on a similar bill is under way in the House. The SPECTRUM Act's sponsor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., referred the bill to the super committee, but plans to move it forward through regular order if it is not included in the committee's decision, according to Rockefeller's staff.
While the move may allow the bill to proceed more quickly because of the super committee's Nov. 23 deadline to make its debt-reducing proposals to Congress, Kirkendall, who also is senior policy advisor for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officers, is concerned that the committee may not consider it at all. “If it comes to Nov. 23 and the super committee decides they're not going to deal with spectrum policy and revenue at all, then two more months of progress have been delayed,” he says.
A message to Congress
The Washington-based National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and United States Conference of Mayors issued a joint statement in August, saying the quake demonstrated that public safety agencies cannot rely on commercial networks in an emergency. “Congress must set aside tangential concerns and immediately pass legislation to reallocate 700 MHz D Block spectrum for a national interoperable broadband network for public safety,” the associations said in the statement.