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FCC Wants Broadband Public Safety Network

As part of the National Broadband Plan, the FCC wants to make a portion of the 700-mhz spectrum available for a nationwide wireless public safety network.

The Federal Communication Commission's National Broadband Plan will contain proposals for the creation of a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety, according to a briefing Thursday by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

Efforts to fix the country's patchwork public safety networks have been advocated since problems in the networks surfaced in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and in Hurricane Katrina.

Genachowski said the broadband plan, being prepared for presentation to Congress next month, will recommend an auction of the D-Block band in the 700-MHz spectrum. The D-Block failed to attract any qualifying bids of $1.3 billion or more in an FCC auction held two years ago.

The FCC chairman said the plan will ask Congress to set aside $16-$18 billion over a 10-year period to help build and operate the nationwide public safety network. "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.

Genachowski, who has been previewing sections of the plan on a piecemeal basis, also said the plan calls for the creation of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center at the FCC. The operation would establish a technical framework for nationwide interoperability.

While recommending that the nationwide public safety network access the entire 700-MHz band, Genachowski said as much as 80 megahertz should be set aside for public safety use. But even that's not enough spectrum, he indicated, adding that the plan will propose "a medium and long-term strategy to obtain additional spectrum resources for broadband use," he said. "I am committed to identifying additional spectrum resources for public safety broadband as the need for broadband grows over time."

Genachowski said the plan will also recommend measures to advance next-generation 911 emergency services. He noted that public safety measures in the plan were developed by Admiral Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau.

Genachowski also revealed a personal aspect to the FCC's public safety deliberations. He recalled that during his college years, he served on ambulances as a certified emergency medical technician. "One of the main reasons I have enormous respect for the vital work that first responders perform in protecting us and in saving lives is that I saw it first hand," he said.

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