First Responders Repeat Calls for Wireless Public Safety Network

By Matthew Harwood

State and city public safety officials today once again called for Congress to set aside a portion of the nation's airwaves to build a wireless broadband network for interoperable public safety communications and data-sharing.

"Seamless interoperability can only be achieved through a dedicated public safety nationwide broadband network," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who is also the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform (HSGRC).

To achieve this, Ramsey called on Congress to allocate a portion of the nation's airwaves, known as the D Block, solely for public safety use. "The allocation of the D Block for public safety organizations, with adequate capacity, control and funding, is the only proposal that will meet the challenges and demands that we confront."

Currently, the Senate is considering two separate bills, one (.pdf) introduced by HSGRC Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), that would allocate the D Block to public safety agencies. The second bill under consideration, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and known as the SPECTRUM Act (.pdf), recently made it out of committee and should be taken up by the full Senate.

In January, the Obama White House came out in favor of allocating the D Block exclusively for public safety. Originally the White House wanted to auction off the D Block,  worth an estimated $3 billion, to wireless carriers, who would then give priority to public safety communications during an emergency. (For more on the D Block debate, check out "A Fight Over First Responder Bandwith" from the November 2010 issue of Security Management.)

First responder groups, however, have thrown their weight against an auction. "The Public Safety Alliance will strongly oppose any legislation or resolution that supports auctioning the D block," Ramsey said, speaking on behalf of the group, composed of nine national public safety associations. "Public safety becomes both less public and less safe if we auction any part of the D Block to the highest commercial bidder."


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