FCC proposes nationwide broadband public safety network

The FCC has proposed setting aside spectrum for a new nationwide broadband IP emergency communications network.

Located in the 700MHz band, the network would consist of 12MHz of spectrum assigned to a single private sector licensee designated by the FCC to set up and operate it.

Though the spectrum is already set aside for public safety communications, its use has not proven reliable during emergencies such as the 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina. Existing systems are based upon interconnected, but diverse, networks and technologies.

Cisco Systems and Motorola are among companies that have developed IP-based wireless systems designed for interoperability among many different devices. The FCC said it undertook the proposed rulemaking because it wanted to take advantage of this new type of technology.

Under the proposal, the spectrum would be assigned to one national licensee that could offer public-safety agencies voluntary access to a broadband service for a fee. The broadband licensee would also operate on a secondary basis on the narrowband public safety spectrum in the 700MHz band.

Though the basic idea got unanimous support among the commissioners, the proposal left many unanswered questions. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein acknowledged that a further Notice of Proposed Rule Making that details a more specific and complete proposal might be needed.