Public Safety Alliance- Dedicated to First Responders… First

What’s At Stake


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What is the Public Safety Alliance?

The Public Safety Alliance (PSA) is a partnership among the nation’s leading public safety associations, including the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, the National Emergency Management Association and the National Association of EMS Officials. PSA is a program of APCO International.

What Is the D Block?

The D Block is a 10 MHz piece of spectrum in the upper 700 MHz spectral band. It sits adjacent to the spectrum currently licensed to public safety.

Why Is the D Block So Important to Public Safety?

Public safety is currently the license holder of 10 MHz of broadband-ready spectrum in the 700 MHz band. As the only remaining portion of unlicensed 700 MHz spectrum on a nationwide basis, public safety must be allocated the D Block in order to build out a 20 MHz broadband network. From a fiscal standpoint, allocating the D Block to public safety would be the most financially and nationally responsible use of the spectrum, as the build-out of a 20 MHz network split between two separate bands would cost taxpayers billions more than simply building one 20 MHz network on a singular spectral band. Allocating the D Block to public safety will allow for a nationwide interoperable broadband network on a contiguous 20 MHz spectrum swath.

The D Block is the only spectrum capable of accommodating public safety’s needs, due to the unique propagation techniques of 700 MHz spectrum. The combined 20 MHz of spectrum would provide the framework for an ideal broadband network for first responders because it would provide enough capacity necessary to transmit missioncritical real-time high resolution video, voice and data with the in-building penetration required by police, EMS and fire when responding to emergencies within residential and commercial units. The robust network would be strong and efficient enough to provide mission critical-grade communication in the case of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency.

Who Controls the Fate of the D Block?

Congress controls what happens with the D Block. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has interpreted its congressional directive as a mandate to auction the D Block spectrum to commercial services only. It is believed that the auction will be held sometime in 2011. Instead of auctioning off the spectrum, the Public Safety Alliance is encouraging Congress to pass legislation that would allocate the D Block and a funding component to public safety to aid in the construction of a nationwide broadband network.

Is There Legislation That Would Allocate the D Block and Funding to Public Safety?

Yes. The Public Safety Alliance urges all Senators to cosponsor and support S. 911, The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2011, as introduced by Senators John (Jay) Rockefeller, IV (D-WV), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, respectively. The bill recently passed out of Committee on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 21-4, and is awaiting action on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has also included language that allocates D Block to public safety along with $7 billion for funding the network build-out in his recent debt proposal.

In addition to the Rockefeller legislation, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY), and Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) introduced H.R. 607, a bipartisan bill, currently with 45 co-sponsors, entitled the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011. Recently, Congressmen John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Gene Green (D-TX) introduced H.R. 2482, which allocates D Block and provides funding for the build-out and sustainment of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) recently introduced S. 1040, Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011. Since its reintroduction early in the 112th Congress, H.R.607 has garnered 40 or more bipartisan cosponsors. Both bills include language that funds the build-out and sustainment of the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.

The PSA is seeking introduction of companion legislation to S.911 in House in the committee of jurisdiction, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and is aware that various drafts are currently circulating. PSA supports and urges bipartisan cosponsors to such a House companion if and when it is introduced. To that end, a Waxman - Eshoo Democratic Staff Discussion Draft recently circulated through the House Energy and Commerce Committee would also allocate the D Block to the public safety and would provide funding to build out the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.

In June 2011, public safety officials from all across the country were invited to the White House to attend a high-level Broadband Summit, where Vice President Joe Biden again echoed his position on the matter saying “[w]e owe it to you [public safety]…to make [you] the best equipped [first responders] in the world.” The White House and the entire Obama Administration remains committed to its National Wireless Initiative that includes language that would allocate the D Block to public safety and provide federal funding in excess of $10 billion – derived from incentive based and other spectrum auctions – for the build-out and sustainment of a nationwide 20 MHz LTE/4G public safety broadband network. The Vice President’s office has continued to make it clear the Administration wants legislation to be passed quickly and that the public safety broadband network is a priority for the President in 2011.

Does Public Safety Really Require Broadband?

Yes. Demand for public safety broadband services is increasing at a faster pace than predicted in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. The public safety community has only recently begun building out this network. As the network is developed and new devices and applications become available, public safety’s demand for video and data services will increase exponentially.

The demand for data services within the public safety community parallels the commercial world; therefore, it is unrealistic that the 10 MHz of spectrum currently allocated to public safety is sufficient for the volume of data its agencies will need, both for day-to-day use and in emergency situations. These same sentiments were echoed by Admiral James Barnett, Chief of the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, who agreed that “public safety will…need more spectrum than the 10 MHz designated to it by Congress.” A substantial slow down of service in the commercial sector will serve as an inconvenience to paying customers; however, a similar slow down on the public safety network could result in lives being lost. It is critical that public safety has the spectrum it needs to efficiently and effectively perform its job.

Can Public Safety Use Commercial Broadband Services?

No. Commercial systems cannot be relied upon for mission-critical operations. Commercial networks, which become congested with consumer applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Hulu and Twitter, are not going to be able to provide sufficient priority access to ensure public safety is given the necessary capacity and bandwidth to transmit their data. Commercial service providers are not willing to allow priority communications from first responders to displace paying customers engaging in day-to-day communication (known as ruthless preemption), even during a crisis.

How Much Will the Build-Out Cost?

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan states that the build-out of a 10-MHz broadband network will cost between $12 and $16 billion over the next ten years. The cost of building a 20-MHz network is the same as building a 10 MHz system, and could actually cost less. The difference is determining who will pay for the network. The FCC’s plan requires the federal government to pay for the build-out.

However, if public safety were able to leverage the excess network capacity, and utilize existing public safety infrastructure when building out the network while securing partnerships with private industry partners, the actual cost to local, state, tribal and federal governments would be considerably less. A combination of leasing excess capacity, prioritized federal grant programs and revenue from other auctioned spectrum would help build and sustain the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network, while creating a budget neutral funding model.

The recently released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the estimated costs and revenues for S. 911 will provide more than $6.5 billion for deficit reduction. The CBO’s estimated costs and revenues for S. 911 indicate that the FCC’s auction of spectrum would generate $24.5 billion in auction revenues which would fully fund the $11.5 billion broadband network for first responders.

The CBO’s analysis of S.911 reflects the sentiments of Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Schumer and others that this bill will help save lives, lower the national deficit and implement a final outstanding recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, without costing the American taxpayer another dollar.

What Are the Benefits of a Fully Operational Public Safety Broadband Network?

For starters, emergency first responders would have access to the sort of technology that many Americans use each day and often take for granted. In fact, at a recent hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly commented that a 16-year-old with a smartphone has “more advanced communications capability than a police officer or deputy carrying a radio.” Smart phones would allow police, fire and EMS officials to reach one another on devices supporting mission-critical voice and data capabilities, allowing them to more efficiently complete their jobs. From an economic standpoint, an entire new market for data-driven devices and applications will emerge, allowing for greater competition, innovation and entrepreneurship. With more open competition for emergency first responder equipment, operational expenses decrease drastically, which becomes a force multiplier for public safety and local and state governments.

The build-out of the network will take years to complete, and the maintenance of the network will call on a well-trained workforce to ensure that the mission-critical network is up to industry standards. The project will undoubtedly create new and sustainable jobs for thousands of Americans.

What Is the Value of the D Block Spectrum?

Sprint, T-Mobile, Clearwire and a few other business interests have shown the greatest desire in bidding for the D Block, which has an estimated commercial auction value of between $1.2 and $3 billion. Applying public safety requirements to the spectrum, such as ruthless preemption (discussed above), would greatly decrease the spectrum’s value. In addition, if the FCC blocks Verizon and AT&T from bidding on the D Block, the resulting lack of open competition would considerably deflate the number and value of the bids.

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