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PRESSURE MOUNTS FOR CONGRESS TO PASS LEGISLATION SUPPORTING NATIONWIDE PUBLIC SAFETY BROADBAND

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 25, 2011 – The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology heard again from expert witnesses today about the benefits of a dedicated broadband network for public safety at a hearing entitled, “Creating an Interoperable Public Safety Network.” Public Safety Alliance (PSA) witness, Chief Jeffry Johnson, discussed the dire need for D block spectrum to be allocated to Public Safety before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

During his testimony, Chief Johnson, immediate past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and current Chief Executive Officer of the Western Fire Chiefs Association, addressed three key issues in achieving an interoperable public safety network including:

  1. Allocation of the D Block Spectrum – To achieve coast-to-coast and border-to-border connectivity, the 10 MHz of “D Block” spectrum, currently slated for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction, must be added to the current 10 MHz of spectrum licensed to Public Safety in order to build out a 20 MHz network with sufficient capacity. The currently licensed public safety spectrum abuts the D Block and is perfect for public safety.
  2. Federal Funding - PSA supports the auction of spectrum by the FCC – from incentive auctions, auctions of the unsold portion of the Advanced Wireless Spectrum, or of designated federal spectrum - with the top priority that the derived proceeds are marked for funding the construction, operation and maintenance of a nationwide public safety broadband network.
  3. A Governance Model - A governance structure must be created to manage and operate this new nationwide public safety broadband network. Public Safety First Responder delegates would constitute a majority of the governing body that sets the rules and enforcement for network operation and facilitate the nationwide build-out. The governing body should include private-sector representation from commercial and other stakeholder groups.

According to Johnson, local control of the network by public safety agencies would be a critical component. “We cannot have commercial providers defining when an emergency is taking place and deciding which communications should have the highest priority. Public safety transmissions have to go through without delay. A “no service” signal is not acceptable. The lives of firefighters, the lives of medics, the lives of law enforcement officers depend on this. It is our responsibility,” said Johnson.

A nationwide public safety broadband network would allow first responders to view building diagrams, hydrant locations, maps, and highway information on hand-held devices. It would provide video to facilitate instantaneous situational awareness of major fire and hazmat incidents in real-time. A future capability for emergency medical operations is the ability for digital imaging, portable EKGs and ultrasounds, field blood work, and video of an accident scene – all transmitted to an emergency department and a physician many miles away. Law enforcement would use the wireless broadband network for numerous applications from field fingerprint identification to the rapid access of criminal records.

The New York Times endorsed the allocation of D block spectrum to public safety earlier this week in an editorial entitled, Chilling Echoes from Sept. 11. The editorial states, “Congress should be haunted by the threat of new disasters finding rescue workers still incommunicado. Responsible lawmakers can mark the 10th anniversary by passing legislation to finally create a national public safety communications network.” The full piece can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/opinion/23mon1.html?_r=1

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