New Law Provides Spectrum & Funding & Will Save Lives
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Vice President Joe Biden met with first responders to thank them for their service and to discuss the new nationwide public safety broadband network included in the Payroll Tax Extension legislation—H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012—which President Barack Obama signed into law on Wednesday, Feb. 22. Title VI of the legislation creates a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network (PSBN), a monumental achievement that will revolutionize the way public safety does its work.
“Working together with the Public Safety Alliance and our partners in the industry and the Big 7 state and local government associations, APCO International’s members achieved something many had claimed to be impossible,” said APCO International President Gregg Riddle on Thursday. “Against all odds and countless obstacles, we succeeded in getting legislation enacted that allocates D Block spectrum to public safety, provides $7 billion in funding, and establishes a governing body that will ensure the build out of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.”
In his meeting with representatives of every branch of public safety, including APCO International Past President Richard Mirgon (pictured), Biden said, “I’ve been working on changing the way we allocate spectrum for a long time, because a smarter system is good for our economy, good for innovation and vital to keeping our cops, firefighters and EMTs safe.”
The legislation picks up on many aspects of the president’s Wireless Innovation Initiative and “will enable new spectrum to be used for innovation, to speed wireless communication and to fulfill a promise made to first responders after 9/11 that they would have the technology they need to stay safe and do their jobs,” Biden continued.
“Truly, this legislation and the allocation of the D Block will save American lives,” said Mirgon. “It provides public safety with the tools and funding that will actually save lives.” He personally thanked Biden for the direct hand he had in ensuring the D Block allocation and funding were included in the legislation.
Mirgon tells Public Safety Communications that it will be important for the public safety community to continue to work together. “We must stay together to execute this.”
According to Mirgon, how the funding will be allocated is yet to be determined. He believes it will be critical to avoid a population-based model and instead allocate the funding by need and construction priorities.
A fair and competitive process will need to be established for vendor selection. And Mirgon says he believes that each state will be considered a separate contract for the process.
No timeline has been established for the build-out although the funds will only be available until 2022. That’s also when the governing body, the FirstNet Board, would need to be re-authorized.
“This is a big project,” says Mirgon, “and getting it done in 10 years is a pretty big hurdle.”
In addition, the legislation advances NG9-1-1, a stated FCC priority, by providing $115 million in grants to upgrade 9-1-1 infrastructure to technologies that will make it possible for public safety answering points to receive text, video, data and images in addition to voice 9-1-1 calls. The grants can be used for the implementation and operation of 9-1-1, E 9-1-1, migration to IP-enabled emergency network, adoption and operation of NG9-1-1 services, and training of public safety communications personnel.
“We are truly at the nexus of realizing the benefits that advanced communications technology has to offer to better serve and protect our communities,” said Riddle. “Today, I am proud to say we made history, and it is my belief that we changed public safety communications forever.”
The bipartisan compromise reached on Title VI of HR 3630 includes provisions that agencies in urban areas return T-band spectrum in the 470–512 MHz band. Public safety advocates considered this a better trade-off than an earlier House-approved version of the legislation crafted by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would have required the give-back of 700 MHz band narrowband spectrum. The T-band giveback will affect far fewer jurisdictions, and the final deal improved upon prior House language by giving agencies 11 years to comply and allowing auction proceeds to be used to cover the costs of relocating T-band licensees.
Biden also announced the release of a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), The Economic Benefits of New Spectrum for Wireless Broadband), describing the substantial economic value of aggressively pursuing Obama’s goal of nearly doubling the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband over 10 years and deploying a nationwide interoperable wireless network for public safety.
The report summarizes the compelling evidence that additional spectrum for wireless broadband is needed to accommodate the surging demand for wireless data traffic, projected to increase by a factor of 20 between 2010 and 2015. The report also describes the potential for wireless broadband to play a transformative role in public safety and as a platform for innovation in many areas of the economy, and documents the substantial impact on jobs, growth, and investment that the growth of wireless broadband will have.
Our modern information economy depends on use of the radio airwaves for everything from smartphones and laptops connected to the Internet over wireless networks, to satellite and other wireless networks that bring Internet access to rural areas where running cables is too expensive. This report shows how important it is to continue supporting the growth of this vital sector of the economy.
In addition to describing the economic benefits of making additional spectrum available for wireless broadband, the new report addresses a number of key issues related to spectrum policy. Specifically, the report reaches the following conclusions:
- The use of voluntary incentive auctions will ensure that spectrum is reassigned from the lowest value uses to the highest, and that the economic benefits are widely shared among stakeholders, including broadcasters, wireless carriers, consumers, and taxpayers. The recently passed spectrum bill gives the FCC authority to conduct these auctions.
- Unlicensed spectrum is a valuable complement to licensed spectrum, and allocating new spectrum for a mix of licensed and unlicensed uses will offer the most fertile environment for future innovation. The spectrum bill gives the FCC authority to allocate more spectrum for unlicensed uses, creating new opportunities for the development of innovative wireless technologies.
- Federal funding for research and development in emerging wireless technologies will have substantial public benefits, particularly to support the development of innovative technologies for use in public safety. The bill sets aside $100 million–300 million for public safety network R&D, funds that will be vital to helping the public safety community build a new robust, flexible and innovative network for first responders all around the country.
Learn more. join APCO’s Government Relations team on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 11 a.m. Eastern for a free webinar to find out what you need to know about Title VI, the Public Safety Spectrum section of H.R. 3630; Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Click here for details.
Author: Keri Losavio is the editor of Public Safety Communications, the official magazine of APCO International.