Oregon's State Interoperability Executive Council (SIEC) has voted to prepare a waiver request that seeks permission from the FCC to build a public-safety statewide broadband wireless network. With such a waiver, Oregon can create a network that lets public-safety responders send more detailed data at faster speeds over a dedicated statewide network, said Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Johnson, who chairs the SEIC. Once the SIEC approves the final draft of the waiver application, it can be sent to the FCC, Johnson said.

Specifically, Oregon didn’t have a base radio system that was modern enough to work for the state’s public-safety agencies, said Johnson, who also is the current president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He said basic operability was the problem, so since the state was going to expend resources to erect towers and build other infrastructure, it made sense to address interoperability.

“Oregon is at a place where we are building a statewide, digital 700 MHz radio network, and that’s from the ground up, in order to replace four antiquated state agency radio systems,” he said. “In addition, we’re going to allow urgent use at no charge for local fire departments, police officers and emergency responders when they overrun their system.”

Johnson said there are several benefits for the state if it is able to create its own broadband data network in the dedicated 700 MHz spectrum. The move would expedite the introduction of high-speed data capabilities within the coverage area of theOregon Wireless Interoperability Network (OWIN). The move also would position Oregon for an eventual merger with the proposed nationwide public-safety communications network.

OWIN spokesperson Bill Gallagher further explained that if granted the waiver, the state would be able to entertain public/private partnerships, which may eventually be the key to deploying broadband service for those underserved areas in the state that don’t have it. Currently, deployment of the nationwide network is stalled because of an unsuccessful attempt to auction off some of the spectrum to a private carrier.

“A public/private partnership for public-safety communications was envisioned but lack of interest in the spectrum auction from the private sector has delayed its deployment,” he said.

The current estimate to build Oregon’s network is $414 million, Johnson said.

“It’s a big pill to swallow, but it made it more tolerable when we looked at the 60-plus partnerships we were able to garner with local governments that offset the cost of building the system,” he said.