ORLANDO—Public safety has multiple options to deploy broadband IP-based data networks that leverage commercial technology to deliver information to the emergency-response community, according to speakers addressing the subject at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials conference here.

“The question is not whether, but how, to deploy broadband for public safety,” Karen Donahue, Lucent Technologies’ group sales leader in its government unit. “And that’s a very big step forward that’s been made in the past two years or so.”

Under the classic public-safety communications funding model—the entity pays for and maintains the network—the National Capital Region has deployed a 700 MHz network using spectrum in the band made available through an experimental license with the FCC. That license can become permanent if the FCC decides to adopt one of three pending proposals that would allow broadband uses in the 700 MHz channels currently earmarked for wideband, said Robert LeGrande, deputy chief technology officer for the District of Columbia.

Regional groups in three other areas of the country—the Silicon Valley, San Diego and Phoenix—are planning to follow a similar model in a grassroots effort to spread broadband to public-safety entities across the country while maintaining local control at each step.

“At the end of the day, the jurisdictions have the God-given right to do what they want to do,” LeGrande said.

LeGrande estimated the cost of installing deploying networks nationwide—across 200 regions—would be about $12 billion and likely would require operational costs approaching $1 billion annually.

Utilizing a model that calls for a public-private partnership between government entities and commercial operators, Cyren Call Communications proposes to utilize 30 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band currently designated for auction by 2008.

Cyren Call CEO Morgan O’Brien said his company has been traveling the country to garner support for the idea and generally has received positive feedback from public-safety entities. But O’Brien said the “political reality” is that the public-safety trust that would be the licensee may have to pay the U.S. Treasury the $5 billion in projected auction revenue to access the spectrum for the proposal to be considered seriously.

O’Brien called for public-safety officials to support the Cyren Call request that the FCC open a proceeding to solicit comments on the proposal quickly.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s now or never,” O’Brien said. “There isn’t any voice that can be louder or more effective than public safety. But it needs to be heard.”

In a more commercial arrangement, M2Z Networks has proposed offering free public access at 384 KB/s and free public-safety access over its WiMAX network on spectrum that has been fallow for five years, M2Z Networks CEO John Muleta said. The public-safety component would provide valuable redundancy to existing networks and would feature PacketHop’s software-based ad-hoc mesh networking solution, said Muleta, the former chief of the FCC’s Wireless Communications Bureau.

“Our proposal is to be a secondary public-safety data network that’s available on a voluntary, opt-in basis,” Muleta said.