Public safety broadband network hits new roadblock

Municipal public safety officials have gone to Washington to lobby for a proposed public safety broadband network. The network which would service only public safety, law enforcement and first responders is supported by the Obama administration but members of Congress are less sure of its merits. The network would cost taxpayers nearly $13 billion and would allow first responders and law enforcement to transfer large amounts of data in an emergency.

The public safety network has been in the works for nearly a decade and supporters argue that events like 9/11 and disasters like Katrina or the Joplin tornadoes highlight the need for this type of infrastructure in the United States. They note that during a crisis event, forcing first responders to use the same networks as the public causes significant downtime in communications and data transfer. As everyone starts calling and sending messages to their family members, first responders are forced to fight for that same network space to transfer critical information.

Law enforcement and first responders from some of the nation’s largest cities went before Congress last week to lobby for this network. At the same time, Congressional Republicans put forward new legislation that would allow for the auction of more wireless spectrum to mobile carriers instead of using that spectrum for the public safety network. Supporters of the bill argue that the budget deficit requires that the country sell that spectrum to make money instead of spending money on the public safety network.

Under the terms of the bill, public safety officials would have to stop allocating spectrum for mobile voice deployments and put the entire D block up for auction. The D block is the block of spectrum that the Obama administration and FCC have said should be allocated for the public safety network.

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