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7/1/2010
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Congress Seeks More Efficient Public Safety Network

FCC chairman Genachowski has been asked by members of the Commerce Committee to clarify options for developing a nationwide public safety network.

In an effort to find solutions to the complexity and inefficiency of the nation's public safety networks, a bi-partisan group of Congressional lawmakers has asked the FCC to clarify some of the ways a more efficient nationwide public safety network could be developed.

Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Barton (R-Tex.) sent a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski this week noting that some early discussions on improving public safety networks are contained in the National Broadband Plan, which the FCC sent to Congress this spring.

Much of the discussions over improving public safety networks has centered on the D-Block of the 700 MHz spectrum, which failed to attract any serious bids in an FCC auction two years ago. The FCC has generally proposed an approach to public safety that would inject more competition -- and thus more inexpensive devices and services -- into the public safety and first responder universe.

"Public safety has typically had to rely on an exclusive or limited vendor pool for equipment and devices, and the cost of the equipment is often more expensive than comparable commercial equipment," the congressmen wrote. "Some have suggested that these factors limit public safety's options and may even undermine attempts to achieve interoperability."

The congressmen asked the FCC to provide a list of the top four vendors of public safety narrowband gear and also to answer whether the greater use of open standards would encourage more competition in the public safety field. The congressman also asked the FCC whether interoperability rules could be revised to ensure that interoperability is achieved in broadband networks.

"Can interoperability requirements applied to the wireless public safety broadband network be utilized to promote interoperability between the narrowband and broadband networks," the Congressmen asked?

Much of the drive to improve the nation's patchwork public safety networks can be traced to the failure of the networks during crisis situations, particularly the 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina.

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