A draft order that would approve 700 MHz broadband waivers from 19 public-safety entities is being circulated among FCC commissioners for a potential vote in the near future, agency officials said.

Many industry experts believe approval of such waivers — primarily requested by states and large urban areas of the nation — would be a significant first step toward the buildout of a nationwide public-safety broadband network by providing real-world information about costs, usage patterns and applications.

“We applaud the FCC’s decision to act upon the pending 700 MHz waiver requests,” said Chris Moore, deputy chief for the San Jose police department and chairman of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC) spectrum working group. “Although many details still need to be addressed, we believe the experience of the waiver jurisdictions will provide valuable data that will assist with the development of a truly national, interoperable, public-safety wireless broadband network.”

Under the draft order, the waivers would allow public-safety entities to build networks on the 10 MHz of 700 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The public-safety entities would have to build the networks within the framework provided by the FCC’s new Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure that the networks can be integrated into the FCC’s vision for an overall national network.

PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said he has not been told exactly how the waiver entities will get access to the PSST spectrum but assumes some sort of sub-lease process will be established. The PSST favors the concept of the FCC granting the waivers, he said.

“I think it’s encouraging, and I think it’s a good move,” McEwen said. “If we get started building out [public-safety broadband networks], there will be lessons learned … and it will get the process going.”

Indeed, several sources have said the early deployments in the waiver jurisdictions would help provide a roadmap for the rest of the country, in terms of providing business models and usage cases for the proposed national network — subjects that have been the source of considerable speculation but no real-world experience to date.

If the FCC grants the waivers, the waiver jurisdiction should have a much better chance of being able to access grant monies to fund the networks, Moore said. Currently, such applications could not be considered, because the entities lacked access to the spectrum necessary to construct the networks.

Under the draft order, the only pending 700 MHz waiver request that would be denied is one that was initiated by a commercial company instead of a public-safety entity, according to FCC officials.