FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was certified as an Emergency Medical Technician while in college, served on ambulances, and taught CPR.

Re-auction of Key Spectrum Block Dismays Public Safety Groups

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski contends FCC's National Broadband Plan, which his agency will submit to Congress this month, is "the best and shortest path to a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety."

Several public safety groups are expressing dismay at the Federal Communications Commission's planned re-auction of the D Block spectrum, which they've long expected to become the national interoperable communications system they desire. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO), along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, and the National Sheriffs' Association, said Feb. 25 they were disappointed by FCC's announcement, according to APCO, which indicated Congress is at fault. Chuck Canterbury, national president of the 327,000-member Fraternal Order of Police, also wrote Feb. 19 to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski saying he fears AT&T and Verizon may get exclusive access to the D Block spectrum, a possibility that "offers no clear path to providing the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network or services that law enforcement needs," Canterbury wrote.

The D Block is only one part of the plan, which also seeks to bring about both a nationwide Next Generation 9-1-1 system and public safety's access to the entire 700 MHz band, not just the D Block, Rear Admiral (Ret.) James Arden Barnett Jr., chief of FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, said Feb. 25. And Eugene Huang, FCC's director of Government Performance and Civic Engagement for the National Broadband Plan, gave the keynote address at a Cambridge, Mass. summit yesterday that was hosted by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media, as speakers discussed the plan's potential to increase U.S. civic engagement.

"Our nation's state and local public safety leaders have worked tirelessly, cooperatively and positively to demonstrate the dire need for this spectrum," APCO International President Richard Mirgon said in APCO's Feb. 25 news release. "The practical and operational field experience of our state and local public safety technology professionals has been overlooked. Unfortunately, the House and Senate Commerce Committees and other members of Congress have failed to recognize the communications needs of our first responders and show the necessary leadership to direct the FCC to reallocate the spectrum for public safety. Public safety needs to own and control this spectrum so that we can use more advanced technology to protect our citizens."

APCO said because Congress has not acted, current law requires the FCC to auction the D Block, which was up for auction in 2009 but did not generate the minimum bid required. After that unsuccessful auction, APCO partnered with IACP, IAFC, and other public safety groups to urge Congress to pass legislation directing the FCC to remove any auction requirement for the D Block and allocate it directly to public safety. "While commercial carriers might need the spectrum for applications like Twitter and Facebook, first responders need the spectrum to protect the public and save lives," Mirgon said. "Our nation's first responders call on Congress to immediately introduce legislation to allocate the D Block to public safety."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech Feb. 25 praising the National Broadband Plan as "the best and shortest path to a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety." He said the plan, which would create an Emergency Response Interoperability Center at the FCC, will ensure broadband wireless communications for public safety are fully interoperable across all geographies and jurisdictions; ensure nationwide coverage; provide for funding for the construction, operation, and evolution of the public safety network; and provide for reserve capacity and needed redundancy and reliability. The plan will recommend that Congress consider spending $12-16 billion during a 10-year period to create an approximately $6 billion federal grant program to help support network construction and additional funding for the operation and evolution of the broadband network.

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