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Congress, White House, FCC key on emergency spectrum

The week of Jan. 24, the US Congress, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission took significant steps towards developing a common communications framework for a nationwide broadband communications network for first responders.

While Congress, the White House and the DHS backed new spectrum allocations, the FCC moved ahead on implementing a common communications technology standard for first responders.

President Obama announced in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address the “D-Block” spectrum would be set aside for public safety use. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a Jan. 27 speech her agency “will work with first responders on the standards and requirements for interoperability of vital communications equipment during times of crisis.”

On Jan. 25, Sen. John Rockefeller, (D-WV), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, re-introduced S. 28, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, that would designate a portion of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum (also known as “D-Block) to public safety, while allocating $11 billion for construction, maintenance, and operation of the new network.

The 10 MHz D-Block spectrum is adjacent to another 10-megahertz block that was already set aside for first responder broadband use. The spectrum was given back to the FCC by broadcasters in 2009 as they moved from analog to more efficient digital television signals. Combining the two blocks would give first responder communications 20 MHz of adjacent spectrum that would give a tremendous boost to their communications capabilities.

The same day as Rockefeller introduced his legislation, the FCC closed in on making interoperable Long Term Evolution (LTE) interface the communications infrastructure standard for first responders. The commission’s rulemaking process, nearing its end, would support the build-out of “robust, dedicated and secure mobile broadband networks” that could share video, photos, email and other information across departments and jurisdictions nationwide for both day-to-day operations and large-scale emergencies.

The FCC’s proposed rules require all 700 MHz public safety mobile broadband networks to use LTE to support roaming and interoperable communications and seeks comment on additional rules to enable nationwide interoperability.

The key House DHS committee supported Napolitano’s announcement that the White House would support D-Block reallocation.,

“I wholeheartedly support today’s announcement by Secretary Napolitano that the Obama Administration supports the reallocation of the D Block communications spectrum to public safety, which is exactly what America’s first responders have long been advocating for,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security in a Jan. 27 statement.  This is a crucial development in our efforts to ensure the development of a national interoperable public safety wireless broadband network,” he said.

King noted he introduced legislation last year aimed at the same re-allocation. “I look forward to working with the President, Secretary Napolitano, and leaders in both the House and the Senate, including Senator Lieberman, in supporting our nation’s first responders and strengthening their communications capabilities.”