Federal officials need to act quickly to ensure that a proposed nationwide wireless broadband network is built in the most cost-efficient manner possible, an FCC bureau chief said during last week’s commission meeting, which included updates of various aspects of the agency’s national broadband plan that will be released in three weeks.

Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau (PSHSB), said the proposed broadband network “offers the greatest promise we will see in this generation” for addressing well-chronicled problems around communications interoperability between first-response agencies. However, it is important that federal officials act soon — from both regulatory and funding perspectives — to make the much-discussed public-safety network a reality.

“There must be extraordinary quickness and speed to action — we get one at bat and one swing,” Barnett said during the meeting, which was webcast. “If we do not execute this network with alacrity, we will miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

One reason quick action is required is that the FCC would like to see the deployment of the public-safety network coincide with the buildout of commercial carrier networks in the 700 MHz band, so infrastructure and manpower can be shared. Without such efficiencies, the cost of the proposed public-safety network likely would double, Barnett said.

“We can’t build a truly interoperable public-safety broadband wireless network later,” Barnett said. “There is no ‘later.’”

Broadband also is expected to play a key role in two other critical aspects of public-safety communications — the 911 system and the emergency-alert system, said Jennifer Manner, PSHSB deputy chief. She described the current generation of both systems as “adequate” but “outmoded,” noting that leveraging broadband functionality is vital for both systems to realize their full capability in next-generation architectures.

This inclusion of 911 into the national broadband plan was welcomed by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

“As NENA has consistently said in our comments to the commission, it is essential that the national broadband plan include recommendations designed to facilitate the transition of our nation’s 911 and emergency communications systems to broadband-enabled, IP-based platforms,” NENA CEO Brian Fontes said in a prepared statement. “It appears that the plan will do just that.

“In particular, we strongly support the focus on next-generation 911 and the establishment of a nationwide public-safety wireless broadband network [including an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC)]," he said. "We also appreciate the explicit recognition of the critical need for funding to meet all of public safety’s broadband needs.”