Public Safety Receives Funding, Spectrum for Nationwide Network

by Mitchel Herckis

When Congress passed the payroll tax cut extension and the President signed it into law earlier this month, they paved the way for the creation of a nationwide public safety broadband network. Once fully implemented, the network will provide first responders across the nation with access to modern technologies most commercial customers take for granted. This not only means the ability to share pictures and videos in real time, but also the creation of applications that will allow for more effective and efficient use of public safety resources.

"Our nation's cities and towns thank Congress for providing us the spectrum, resources and framework for a public safety communications network," NLC President Ted Ellis, mayor of Bluffton, Ind., said in a statement following the bill's passage. "We also thank the White House and Federal Communications Commission for joining us in making it a national priority. Bipartisan agreements are rare and we commend both parties for their support."

The nationwide network will also solve a problem that has been looming since the September 11, 2001, attacks - how to ensure police and fire services from other jurisdictions and states will be able to have their communications equipment seamlessly linked into local systems when responding to major emergencies and national crises.

Currently, state and local jurisdictions use a patchwork of voice-only first responder communications. The nationwide network will replace this patchwork with a modern nationwide 4G LTE wireless network dedicated and built specifically for public safety use.

In a meeting with law enforcement officials, firefighters and public safety groups, Vice President Biden said the legislation will "fulfill a promise made to first responders after 9/11 that they would have the technology they need to stay safe and do their jobs."

Building a nationwide public safety communications network was a major recommendation of the 9/11 Commission - one of the few never fulfilled by Congress.

The nationwide broadband network was a major victory for NLC and its allies that represent state and local governments, as well as the first responder community. The final compromise included reallocation of the "D-Block" of radio spectrum, long demanded by state and local governments and first responders to ensure enough bandwidth for a quick, modern first responder network. The bill also commits $7 billion for building and maintaining the nationwide network, and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1 technologies.

In addition, public safety will retain the nationwide public safety "narrowband" spectrum currently used for land mobile radio (LMR) communication. This ensures that first responders will be able to utilize both mission-critical voice and modern 4G wireless broadband services to communicate in almost every emergency situation.

A recent report from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) estimates that beyond the importance to the safety of the nation, the funding and construction of a 20 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network will result in approximately "100,000 good-paying technology jobs, averaging a $70,000 salary," as well as provide savings to state and local taxpayers of nearly $2 billion per year. The TIA report suggests additional "indirect or spillover benefits of an estimated $4 billion to $8 billion per year" to the economy