LAS VEGAS — Critical-infrastructure entities such as utilities are among the partners that should be allowed to operate on the nationwide public-safety LTE network that is the subject of a new law passed this week, key first-responder officials said during sessions at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).

Signed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, the law reallocates the 700 MHz D Block and $7 billion in federal funding to support the deployment of a first-responder broadband network that will be overseen by a new entity, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

The law allows other entities to access the private LTE network on a secondary basis. Public-safety officials lobbied to have such language included in the legislation, and critical-infrastructure entities such as utilities could be valuable partners that would help make the network more robust, said Richard Mirgon, former president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

“I submit that there’s a business case to build the technology that allows that to happen. I submit it is absolutely the right thing to do,” Mirgon said yesterday during a session on critical-infrastructure spectrum options. “If we put the right people at the table to solve the problem, we can get it done.

“It’s time to make sure we that we start looking at what’s best for America, and the utilities are part of what’s best, because nobody operates without power, water, natural gas, you name it. The utilities have a need to be a part of this, and we have to do due diligence in this process as the FirstNet governing board creates these rules on how to do secondary use.”

With a need to be able to communicate under the most difficult circumstances — for instance, when the commercial power grid is down — utilities have similar reliability needs as public safety. In addition, utilities and public safety need to communicate in remote areas that commercial wireless networks do not serve, because they do not have enough potential customers to justify the economics of deploying a network there.

For public safety, such partners are potentially very valuable for the proposed LTE network, because additional users make it easier to create ecosystems that can lower the cost per user for the system. These partners can provide additional revenue streams that can help stretch the $7 billion in funding to build and maintain the network — a point noted by Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) Chairman Harlin McEwen during a session earlier in the show.

Partnering with critical-infrastructure entities could provide other benefits. For instance, Airports have extensive infrastructure and experience managing large-scale video-surveillance system, while electric utilities can provide backup-power expertise, as well as potential cell sites and fiber backhaul.

Meanwhile, many critical-infrastructure entities are struggling to secure spectrum, particularly the larger swaths of spectrum needed to support broadband applications that are critical to realizing the full potential of initiatives such as smart grid and intelligent transportation systems.

Several critical-infrastructure representatives speaking at IWCE have expressed concern that the “secondary” language in the law would mean their applications could be pre-empted entirely during emergencies, which would not be acceptable reliability. However, many have indicated that the bandwidth for critical infrastructure could be reduced to very low levels during emergencies — allowing greater bandwidth for public safety — because the most important data is not bandwidth intensive.

Technological advances such as multiple layers of dynamic prioritization supported by LTE make resolving such issues to the satisfaction of both public safety and critical-infrastructure entities possible, said Mirgon, who noted that utilities and public safety in Nevada have established a model for such partnerships with a shared LMR network.

“When you look at what Nevada did, it works — and it works well,” he said. “When you look at the technology coming in front of us … there’s multiple ways and layers to manage that network.”

Mirgon said it is important that public-safety partnerships on the private network do not threaten the economic viability of commercial carriers by inadvertently creating a government-subsidized competition for valued enterprise customers. However, commercial carriers have acknowledged that they cannot always meet the reliability, prioritization and coverage needs that public-safety and critical-infrastructure entities require during crises, he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of carriers, and I get their business model,” Mirgon said. “I support what they’re trying to do, and there’s a way to work that out.”