Taxpayers to pay for public safety network

The FCC will request $12 to $16 billion from Congress to pay for constructing and maintaining a nationwide mobile broadband network for emergency response agencies, including police and fire departments.

The commission will also recommend that mobile carriers that paid billions of dollars for spectrum in the 700MHz band be required to share their spectrum with public safety agencies. This scenario is outlined in the national broadband plan that is being readied for presentation to Congress.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said a grant program of up to $16 billion over the next decade is needed to get a nationwide, interoperable public safety network built. Pressure has been building for such a network since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, during which the multiple public safety agencies responding to the attacks couldn’t talk with each other.

“The private sector simply is not going to build a nationwide, state-of-the-art, interoperable broadband network for public safety on its own dime,” Genachowski said. “We have gone too long with little progress to show for it.”

He said the FCC’s plan represents the “best and shortest path” to necessary emergency communications for public safety agencies. Earlier, the FCC tried to auction a block of spectrum for a shared commercial/public service network but it failed to sell. The commission has not tried to reauction the airwaves.

The costs of the nationwide mobile broadband network would include $6 billion, over 10 years, for a grant program to support the costs of building out the network. An additional $6 billion to $10 billion would support the operation and upgrading of the network over the decade.

The national broadband plan includes a blueprint to enhance the nation’s 911 emergency dialing service by linking it into broadband, as well as a section on improving cyber security and the reliability of U.S. broadband networks.