Sunday, March 20, 2011

Broadband & Public Safety

In times of emergencies, people need to reach emergency responders by phone, by texting, and have the ability to send videos. These capabilities would help emergency responders more effectively do their job but state-of-the-art communication skills can’t be accomplished without broadband.

In discussing broadband progress and the effect it has on public safety and emergency responders, Jennifer Manner, Deputy Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, of the FCC took part in a panel discussion on “Broadband a Year Later” sponsored by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation on March 16th.

She explained that today although many emergency responders work with all types of emergency situations, many of these responders still do not have broadband available for their use. Today emergency 9-1-1 systems still operate on circuit-switched networks and federal, tribal, state, and local governments are still using outdated alerting systems during emergencies.

To proceed further in developing broadband for public safety use, Manner explained that the FCC has established the Emergency Response Interoperability Center known as ERIC as part of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. The Center is listening to the advice of a technology advisory committee comprised of 60 public safety officials across government and industry on how to foster nationwide operability and interoperability in wireless broadband communications.

As Manner pointed out, the Next Generation 9-1-1 emergency call system and the Next Generation emergency alerting technologies are extremely critical to put in place so that everyone can reach emergency responders. President Obama in his statement in his budget statement in February is calling for an investment for $10.7 billion to ensure that public safety will be able to benefit from Next Generation and include 4G high-speed wireless services and $3.2 billion to reallocate the “D Block” (the band of spectrum that would be reserved and prioritized for public safety and not auctioned as called for under existing law).

Manner mentioned that several bills have been introduced addressing public safety emergency issues. The “Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011” (H.R.6007) introduced by Representative Peter King would increase the electromagnetic spectrum allocation for commercial use.

A related bill “Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act” (S.28) was introduced in by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. This bill would require a broadband 700 MHz band to be deployed in both rural and urban areas. The bill would also reallocate and integrate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum for use by public safety entities.

To move broadband forward, NIST and NTIA are presently working on a 700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Demonstration Network to provide manufacturers and first responders a location for early deployment of their systems in a multi-vendor, neutral, host environment. The Demonstration Network has 3 phases including network and test planning (phase 1), deployment (phase 2), and testing and demonstrations (phase 3). The demonstration is helping emergency responders learn how broadband systems perform and working to determine through hands-on-experience how these systems can meet unique needs.