Urgent Matters

Regarding public-safety communications, what a difference a year can make

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On the 11th anniversary of the infamous terrorist actions of 9/11, the landscape for public-safety communications is quite positive.

A year ago, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks passed with many public-safety officials expressing concern that a much-discussed proposal to establish a nationwide LTE network for first responders might not come to fruition, even though there was growing political momentum behind the concept. Indeed, many saw the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as a watershed moment, when political pressure could break the partisan logjam on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the passage of that date without legislation being passed was viewed by many as a crucial opportunity lost.

However, on the 11th anniversary of the infamous terrorist actions of 9/11, the landscape is much different and very positive, with a new law in place that mandates the creation of the aforementioned nationwide network. Today, conversation regarding the broadband network is focused on "when" and "how" the network will be built, not "if" it is even a realistic possibility.

Are things happening as quickly as everyone in the public-safety sector would like? Probably not, especially for those jurisdictions that planned to deploy LTE networks this summer, but have been left in limbo while the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board was established.

Are things happening exactly in the manner that everyone in public safety would like? Also, probably not — but that was not a fair expectation anyway. For instance, there was no way that all of the many qualified and deserving people in the public-safety sector could be named to the FirstNet board initially. In addition, nothing this big and complex is going to have unanimous approval.

But tangible steps have been — and continue to be — taken, and that's a significant upgrade compared to last year. No longer is there a question whether public safety will get the 700 MHz D Block and have enough spectrum to support a nationwide network. And there is a tangible source of funding — a commitment from Congress to provide $7 billion toward the project. Finally, all of the initial deadlines established by Congress regarding the nationwide network have been met.

Of course, some big issues still remain. The timetable associated with planning funding has many wondering whether significant public-safety LTE deployments will happen within the next five years.

And, while the $7 billion in funding is an unprecedented boon for public safety, it clearly will not be enough to finish the project, and many analysts wonder whether incentive-auction revenues — the key source for this money — will be as high as federal officials hope. Other political and economic matters also need to be addressed.

Certainly, there is a lot of work to do, and the FirstNet board will have its hands full, beginning with its first meeting that is scheduled to happen two weeks from today. But the fact that spectrum is in place, funding has been promised and the FirstNet board has been established is a huge victory for public safety. Hopefully, this is one dream that will become reality.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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