While they were waiting for the FCC to sort out the national broadband network stalemate (see story below), some states started to take matters into their own hands. In fact, Oregon’s State Interoperability Executive Council (SEIC) just this month prepared a waiver request that seeks the FCC’s permission to build out its own public-safety broadband wireless network. Oregon wants to build out a statewide digital 700 MHz radio network from the ground up in order to replace four, antiquated state agency radio systems, said Chief Jeff Johnson, president of the IAFC and chair of the SIEC executive council.

Johnson said radio systems used by the Oregon Department of Transportation, State Police and the Department of Corrections were in excess of 25 years old. Only one — the Department of Forestry — had a modern system. So the state decided to upgrade all of the radio systems at once to provide statewide operability.

Johnson said the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon State Police and the Department of Corrections operated radio systems that were in excess of 25 years old. Only one — the Department of Forestry — had a modern system. In addition, infrastructure was deteriorating. Towers and buildings were in “difficult shape so we really needed a ground-up overhaul,” he said.

“We had buildings and towers that were wooden and certainly did not have a system that could withstand any form of natural disaster with high reliability,” Johnson said. “So we embarked on making a single radio system out of four separate systems in order to serve the state of Oregon.”

The state decided it needed to upgrade all of the radio systems at once to provide statewide operability since there wasn’t a base radio system that was modern enough to work statewide. Specifically, the network will support medium-speed data, Johnson said. It will be robust enough to run basic data, such as license plates, driver’s license photos, reporting functions and mug shots. For fire departments, the system will offer access to databases, such as those that hold address information, mapping and occupancy data, for example. But it will not provide access to the Web nor be robust enough to transmit video.

As with any radio-technology upgrade, it’s not a cheap endeavor. The system has an estimated price tag of $414 million. While Johnson said it is a big pill to swallow, it becomes more tolerable considering the 60-plus partnerships developed under Oregon’s Wireless Interoperability Network. OWIN was a product of state legislature HB 2101 that mandated an entity be formed to consolidate the radio system and include an interoperable communications component so state, local, federal and tribal public-safety agencies could share information.

Johnson said they also are looking at commercial opportunities and are contemplating letting subscribers onto the network. “It’s not required, but if you are local agencies that currently have your own radio system, and you would like to be on the state radio system as your primary radio system, then our model contemplates that,” he said.

Johnson said while Oregon works on its statewide network, he believes in and will continue to advocate for the national broadband network through his role as president of the IAFC. He said the organization has invested a lot of time trying to compel Congress to remove the D Block from the auction and give the spectrum trust 20 MHz of bandwidth, which lets responders move video and high-speed data on a network dedicated to public-safety agencies.

“It lets us have high-speed data available during an emergency, because the commercial networks will become overwhelmed with regular commercial traffic and it will bring our communications to a standstill,” he said. “That’s why we are committed to a national public-safety broadband network because then it’s only us on it, and we control it.”

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