FCC reveals more details about public-safety network plans

An FCC official revealed more details about how the nationwide public-safety mobile broadband network will come to fruition. Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, indicated the FCC  plans to establish an interoperability center and rule on individual 700 MHz broadband waiver requests by mid-summer. The commission is also looking to prepare for a D Block auction next year and lobby Congress to fund the rollout of the public-safety network.

The FCC is considering a draft order to establish the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to help give technical advice to make sure the public-safety network is interoperable nationally. Creating ERIC will allow the FCC to act on waiver requests from cities that want to move ahead quickly to build their own 700 MHz broadband network.

Barnett also indicated the FCC is preparing to auction the D Block to commercial bidders in either the first quarter or the second quarter of 2011.

"The plan is to sell the D Block--Congress has designated that for commercial use and has mandated that it be auctioned," he said. "I know that there is a mystical and spiritual bond between public safety and the D Block, but the fact of the matter is that the D Block was never given to public safety."

The FCC is aiming for a situation where the public-safety network would operate in spectrum once reserved for the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). In 2007 the FCC issued the PSST a nationwide Public Safety Broadband License for 12 MHz of broadband spectrum in the upper 700 MHz band. The D Block portion of the 700 MHZ band was supposed to be auctioned off as part of the larger 700 MHz spectrum auction in 2008 to a commercial licensee. The winner of the D Block was to form a public-private partnership with the PSST to build out the network.

If the network is unavailable because of capacity problems or outages, public-safety users would be allowed to roam on commercial LTE networks with priority access.

Of course, funding is a critical element of the network. The network, which will be based on LTE, is expected to cost $6.5 billion to construct--if it is done in conjunction with commercial deployments. If this simultaneous building isn't accomplished, the FCC has said that deployment cost will double.

"One of the things I've been trying to convey to our public-safety leaders is that, without funding, there will not be a nationwide, interoperable public-safety network," Barnett said. "This is a carefully crafted plan that takes advantage of the commercial 4G buildouts to save public safety and state and local governments literally billions of dollars. That puts a time element into it--it has to occur soon, so you can catch that buildout."

For more:
- see this Urgent Communications article

Related articles:
What will become of the D Block? 
Seybold's take: It's time for public safety to present a unified plan
FCC plans to begin D Block re-auction process this summer