Last week, the FCC issued an order expanded potential users of public-safety 700 MHz broadband spectrum beyond police, fire and EMS personnel, noting that current law supports people from other government entities operating on the spectrum when they are fulfilling a public-safety objective.

Many sources believe the recent FCC ruling grants about as much flexibility regarding 700 MHz government users as can be interpreted under existing law, which states that people can operate on the spectrum only if their “the protection of safety of life, health, and property” is their primary role.

Of course, the primary role can vary, based on circumstance. If there is no electricity or a power line is down during an emergency, municipal utility workers could be considered first responders, because the effectiveness of a response effort may well depend on the ability of the utility personnel to complete their tasks. The same can be said for a variety of other government personnel, from members of an IT department to building inspectors.

Exactly who can access this valuable spectrum is a significant issue at the moment. Several cities and other governmental entities would like to pursue the deployment of LTE networks on these airwaves, but doing so strictly for public-safety personnel may make the prospect unfeasible economically.

All aspects of government — from inspectors to parks workers to sanitation department members — would like to use mobile broadband application to enhance efficiencies; it is not a desire held only by public safety. Even in the tight budget environments that a down economy has created, building an LTE system that addresses the needs of all workers within a government entity is a notion that would be a top priority.

If a city has to create one system for public safety and another for the rest of its work force, the cost to build and support two solutions may be too large and cumbersome to tackle. However, if one LTE system can be leveraged to address the broadband needs of all city employees — and the budgets and grant-procurement power of all departments can be used to provide funding — the return-on-investment case become much more compelling to the elected officials that must sign off on such an endeavor.

A larger FCC order on this topic is expected in the upcoming months, but some question whether the agency can interpret existing law to grant the kinds of flexible use of public safety’s 700 MHz broadband that would provide the greatest benefits to taxpayers.

Congress could provide a huge helping hand in this matter by including language that would enable the most efficient sharing of spectral and funding resources that ultimately provide the best overall solution for the public. It’s something that should be considered in bills that would reallocate the D Block to public safety and provide funding for the buildout of a private LTE nationwide for first responders.

Admittedly, it is not a simple task. A poorly worded law could generate a host of unintended users, interference issues and network-capacity concerns. However, if crafted well and interpreted properly by the FCC, the result could be an interoperable broadband network that is more robust, reliable and covers more territory than any network that could be built for traditional public-safety users only.

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