More than 20 public-safety entities have permission to begin building broadband networks for first responders in their geographic areas, as the FCC yesterday granted waivers to all governmental entities making such a request.

As expected, the FCC approvals included conditions that the waiver jurisdictions build LTE networks that would interoperate with the proposed 700 MHz nationwide broadband system and that all public-safety entities in the geographic area be invited to use the new networks.

Public-safety officials generally welcomed the FCC action, noting that waiver buildouts will provide data important in the deployment of the proposed national network.

“I think it’s a great step toward ultimately what we need,” New York Deputy Chief Charles Dowd said. “We have always made the argument that granting these waivers will further the ability to understand what it is that we want to build and how we want to build it. When cities like New York and states like New Mexico build these systems, you’ll be able to take that experience and apply it to the nationwide program.”

Waiver jurisdictions will be allowed to build broadband networks that operate on the 10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The FCC order includes a template outlining the long-term lease agreement between the waiver jurisdiction and the PSST that is expected to allow the PSST to cover its administrative costs.

“The PSST believes this is a positive step forward towards creating a nationwide public-safety wireless broadband network,” PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said in a prepared statement. “The PSST applauds FCC Chairman [Julius] Genachowski and the other FCC commissioners for adopting this order, and we look forward to working with the FCC and the waiver petitioners to respond to the requirements of the order, so this activity can move forward in a timely manner.”

Of the waivers requested, the FCC only refused one. That application was made by commercial operator Flow Mobile. The FCC said the Flow Mobile application was denied because commercial entities are ineligible to be licensed on public-safety spectrum under existing law.

Exactly what groups will be allowed to use the public-safety spectrum is expected to be explored during future rulemakings. Many entities would like to have users other than traditional first responders — for instance, public-works personnel, hospital personnel and critical-infrastructure entities — be allowed to use the network.

“My largest concern at this point is that Seattle and other jurisdictions be allowed to bring on second responders — utilities, public-works departments and transportation departments — as secondary users to public safety, because they play such a vital role to public safety and to help spread the construction and operations costs,” city of Seattle CTO Bill Schrier said. “That will be determined in the rulemaking over the summer, and I’ll push for that.”

Both Schrier and Dowd noted public safety’s desire for these networks to also leverage the 700 MHz D Block spectrum that is scheduled to be auctioned to commercial operators early next year. Congress recently introduced a bill that would reallocate the D Block for public-safety use, but the legislation has not even been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.

“There’s a lot of questions that still remain, obviously, but this is huge step today — this is a very large step the FCC has taken,” Schrier said.

The following entities were granted waivers:

  • Adams County, Colo.
  • Alabama
  • Boston
  • Northern California Consortium (Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose)
  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Chesapeake, Va.
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii; the counties of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai; and city and county of Honolulu
  • Iowa
  • Los Angeles County
  • Mesa, Ariz., and TOPAZ Regional Wireless Cooperative
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York City
  • New York State
  • Oregon
  • Pembroke Pines, Fla.
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Seattle
  • Wisconsin Consortium (Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago Counties)