For the past several years, public-safety officials have sought avenues that would allow agencies to leverage commercial wireless broadband technology and 700 MHz spectrum to establish networks that would give first responders reliable access to the latest video and data applications in emergencies.

Today, the primary push has been for reallocation of the commercial D Block spectrum to public safety, which public-safety organizations have said is necessary to ensure that first responders have the broadband spectrum needed to do their jobs most effectively during times of crisis.

But, as critics have noted, reallocating the D Block to public safety is not a panacea, because deploying LTE networks promises to be an expensive proposition. Legislation has been introduced that would provide billions of dollars toward this effort, but it could be difficult to convince fiscal conservatives — elected in November on platforms emphasizing the need to reduce the federal deficit — to part with the money needed to fund such networks nationwide.

One possible way to improve the cost-justification case is to expand the potential user base for these networks beyond the traditional first-responder community of police, fire and EMS personnel. Broadening the potential user base to other government personnel — something the city of Charlotte, N.C., has asked the FCC to consider — would greatly improve the business case, in terms of economies of scale and additional funding sources. In addition, it would provide a unified network that could enable interoperability throughout all levels of a government entity.

While this flexibility would be helpful, expanding the user base of these networks beyond even the government entities has been the subject of considerable discussion in recent months. Putting critical-infrastructure entities — hospital, utilities and transit agencies — into the mix would make a massive difference in the business case and open significant potential funding sources. In addition, these entities could bring important infrastructure such as rights of way and private fiber networks to the table.

With the ability to leverage funding from telemedicine, smart-grid and intelligent-transportation grants, these mission-critical networks could be built with significantly more sites and redundancy, increasing both capacity and reliability — characteristics that are necessary for all of these entities. Acting alone, public safety would not be able to afford such a robust deployment, nor could the healthcare, utility or transportation sectors on its own.

By working together, these sectors should be have plenty of resources to build robust, reliable networks — and, just as importantly, have a user base that’s large enough to pay for the networks to be refreshed as technology evolves. Meanwhile, from a politician’s perspective, supporting legislation for robust, reliable multiuse networks for all of these important sectors makes greater fiscal sense than supporting the buildout of separate broadband networks for each sector and then struggle to create interoperability between them during the greatest times of need. The nuclear power-plant situation in Japan is a sobering reminder of the importance of being able to maintain communication between government and critical-infrastructure entities during times of crisis.

To be sure, partnering with critical-infrastructure entities can be complicated, particularly when those entities are for-profit companies. In addition, prioritization schemes have to be considered carefully to ensure that all participants get access to the bandwidth they need when they need it most. It is important that flexibility exists to enable local entities to negotiate agreements that serve their needs.

While challenging, it does not appear impossible by any means, based on the conversations I’ve had with officials in all of these sectors. It was a hot topic at IWCE last month and should be pursued further.

If rules are tailored properly, public-safety agencies could pursue more innovative business models that could allow even cash-strapped entities the funding needed to make LTE a reality in their region. Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill might jump at the chance to provide funding for an initiative that could address multiple long-term priorities, not just public-safety broadband access.

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