For voice and data communications, public-safety agencies primarily utilize radio spectrum that is assigned for their use. Depending on the spectrum band, public-safety frequency coordination is accomplished by multiple entities. In the bands below 512 MHz, the FCC has certified several public-safety frequency coordinators that ensure efficient and effective use of the spectrum. Public-safety agencies seeking to use spectrum that requires frequency coordination can utilize any certified frequency coordinator to do so. In addition, those same entities coordinate numerous channels in the 800 MHz band.

Certain portions of public safety's spectrum allocation between 851 — 854 MHz, as well as the new National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) band — which resulted from the reconfiguration of the 800 MHz band, where portions of the band from 866 — 869 MHz were relocated to minimize interference to public-safety communications systems — are coordinated by FCC-approved 800 MHz regional planning committees, or RPCs. These committees operate independently of the aforementioned frequency coordinators.

Moreover, RPCs also exist for public safety's 700 MHz narrowband spectrum — these committees have authority to coordinate the general-use spectrum between 769 — 775 and 799 — 805 MHz — and many regions now have FCC-approved plans for those airwaves as a result of their efforts.

The RPCs consist of volunteers from the first-responder community, usually public-safety employees involved in other aspects of spectrum management. The committees' work is focused on ensuring that spectrum is available to those agencies that want to use it under the guidelines established by the RPCs.
Each regional plan has been developed to represent the spectrum-use requirements and user demographics in their areas. Within these plans are stringent requirements that were identified when the RPC sought FCC approval. Consequently, the commission requires regions to adhere to the elements that are included in their approved plans, which represent the unique perspective of each particular region.

The RPC also is responsible for sufficiently protecting existing co-channel and adjacent-channel users in the band. This is an important point because applicants often reach conclusions regarding what they want/need in their system with input from their vendor, but without consideration of any existing users in the band. That is why it is essential that the RPC manage the spectrum in the respective bands.

Some people often ask why portions of the 800 MHz band are coordinated by the certified frequency coordinators, while other airwaves, such as the NPSPAC band and the 700 MHz general-use channels, are coordinated by the RPCs. It is because the FCC determined — during the initial NPSPAC process (Docket 87-112) in the early 1990s — that in certain bands spectrum management at the local/regional level can produce a more effective coordination for all concerned.

The RPCs, which consist of public-safety volunteers, continue that vision on a daily basis, striving to provide local spectrum access and perspective to those public-safety agencies that need it.

Stephen Devine is the chairperson of the Region 24 (Missouri) 700 and 800 MHz regional planning committees. He is also chairperson of the National Regional Planning Council, an advocacy body that supports 700 and 800 MHz regional planning committees.