East Coast earthquake spurs calls for public-safety broadband network

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked the East Coast Tuesday afternoon and strained some wireless networks with high call volumes has led to renewed calls for a nationwide LTE network for first responders.

The temblor, which was based near Richmond, Va., could be felt as far north as New England. The Public Safety Alliance, a group representing public-safety organizations that wants Congress to allocate the D Block of the 700 MHz and directly to public safety, said the earthquake threw the need for the nationwide network into sharp relief.

"It's not a criticism of commercial system, it's just that we can't have mission critical public safety running on those systems," PSA spokesman Sean Kirkendall told Politico. "And this is just another reminder of that. And it's closer to home to some than others."

Congress is still sorting out legislation over whether the spectrum will be allocated directly to public safety or auctioned off, and there is hope a final decision could be made by year-end. Some bills circulated earlier this year have called for proceeds from incentive auctions of TV broadcast spectrum to be used to fund the construction of the network.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) said they experienced a surge in call volume following the earthquake, but that they did not experience any damage to their networks as a result of the quake. Syniverse processed more than 220 million SMS messages in the two hours following the quake, up 15 percent compared with the same period on Monday, the company said. Meanwhile, email messages from Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry devices still went through despite the earthquake, even when many calls were blocked, possibly burnishing the image of reliability for RIM.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Politico article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this separate Bloomberg article

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