Public safety group disputes FCC's claim on spectrum

A coalition of public safety officials disputed the Federal Communications Commission's claims that its proposal in the national broadband plan for building an interoperable public safety network will adequately serve the needs of emergency first responders.

A coalition of public safety officials from around the country struck back on Wednesday against the Federal Communications Commission's claims that its proposal in the national broadband plan for building an interoperable public safety network will adequately serve the needs of emergency first responders.

The Public Safety Alliance, which includes groups representing police chiefs, fire chiefs and others, issued its own white paper in response to one released last month by the FCC that argued the commission's proposals are adequate to meet public safety's needs. FCC has called for providing public safety officials with 10 megahertz of spectrum and auctioning off another chunk of spectrum known as the D-Block to commercial providers to help pay for building a public safety broadband network. It also calls for giving public safety officials priority access to roam on commercial networks during emergencies.

The alliance and state and local officials say FCC's plan will not meet the needs of public safety officials, who have called on the commission to give them the D-block spectrum in addition to the 10 megahertz called for in the broadband plan. The alliance argues FCC's white paper "makes far too many assumptions and relies on conjecture to develop its misguided policy framework that will put public safety users at risk."

For example, the alliance said FCC has "greatly" underestimated the current and future capacity needs of public safety by allocating only 10 megahertz of broadband spectrum for such tasks as mission-critical high-speed data, high-resolution two-way video conferencing, video monitoring and surveillance at an incident, multi-agency IP-based voice communications with push-to-talk services and other high-bandwidth applications.

The alliance's paper also takes issue with FCC's claim that the 10 megahertz will provide more than enough capacity for day-to-day communications for public safety officials and also faulted FCC for not seeking "meaningful input" from public safety officials.

"Public safety has repeatedly argued that the additional 10 megahertz of paired spectrum that would be gained through a D-Block allocation is necessary to ensure reliable operation of the public safety broadband network in the long term," according to the paper.

In a statement, James Barnett, chief of FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, noted the commission's plan is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters and is aimed at ensuring that a national interoperable broadband public safety network moves from "talk to reality."

"Following months of study and extensive consultation with public safety groups and others, the national broadband plan puts forward a realistic, cost-effective proposal for achieving this long overdue goal," he added. "Our concern is that other proposals will cost more than $35 billion and therefore will never be built or will leave out rural and suburban communities instead of providing a truly comprehensive nationwide network for America's first responders."

Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee, unveiled draft legislation that would implement FCC's public safety network recommendations and authorize additional funds to make up for any shortfall in funds from the auction of the D-Block spectrum to pay for building the network.

The controversy will get more attention on Saturday at the National Governors Association annual meeting in Boston. The NGA's Special Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety is hosting a discussion on FCC's plan and state and local officials' concerns.

"Public safety officials need a nationwide interoperable communications network to protect the public. Governors believe that dedication of the D-Block for this purpose is the best way to meet our public safety obligations," Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., co-chairman of the special committee, said in a news release this month announcing the session. "The FCC's proposal to auction the D-block for commercial purposes is counter to those interests and we hope they will reconsider."