Originally published: March 23, 2010
Last updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:37am
Police and fire chiefs from around the country are calling on Congress to make sure public safety agencies have access to enough wireless airwaves to form a nationwide communication network for first responders.
Public safety executives say the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) National Broadband Plan undermines their ability to build a network that would allow federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to talk to each other during national disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina or the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The National Broadband Plan, which the FCC delivered to Congress last week, makes several recommendations intended to allow paramedics, police officers, port authority patrols and other emergency workers to create a national network to replace the current patchwork of networks that use different technologies, making it difficult for different jurisdictions to communicate. The biggest point of contention is over the FCC's recommendation to auction off a chunk of spectrum previously set aside for public safety. During emergencies, public safety officials would have priority access on commercial networks. But top police commissioners and fire chiefs say that system will not be reliable enough. Instead, they want the FCC to give a larger piece of spectrum to the first responders, who would then lease excess capacity to commercial providers when it is not needed.
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