DHS Backs Free Allocation of Open Radio Spectrum to First Responders

By Joseph Straw

The Obama Administration has come out in favor of simply allocating unused radio frequency spectrum to the nation’s first responders, rather than auctioning off the bands to wireless companies with the condition that they prioritize emergency traffic.

The spectrum, freed up by 2008’s switch to more efficient digital television transmissions, “will be set aside for public safety, so we will work with first responders on the standards and requirements for interoperability of vital communications equipment during times of crisis,” said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), during  a recent speech at The George Washington University in the nation’s capital.

The final decision would fall to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or to Congress, if it can enact legislation resolving the issue.

An auction of the spectrum failed amid the economic downturn. As first responders awaited an auction scheduled for this year, lawmakers on Capitol Hill joined their calls for the FCC to simply open up the spectrum for independent use by states and local jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions want to develop networks independently, with contracts requiring that the new systems are interoperable with others.


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