Public-safety officials expressed support for the concept of a national interoperability center for public-safety broadband communications, although many speakers asked for clarifications about the role and scope of the proposed entity during an FCC forum about the matter this week.

According to an FCC white paper, the mission of the emergency response interoperability center (ERIC) would be “to establish a technical and operational framework that will ensure nationwide operability and interoperability from the outset in deployment and operation of the 700 MHz public-safety broadband wireless network.” The FCC has proposed that the ERIC be housed in the agency’s public-safety and homeland security bureau (PSHSB) and that it would accept regular input from a public-safety advisory board, as well as work in partnership with federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Several public-safety speakers welcomed the notion, noting the potential benefit of the FCC being engaged actively in the development of the much-discussed 700 MHz broadband wireless network for public safety. But PSHSB Chief Jamie Barnett acknowledged that the ERIC concept needs considerable work.

“Even though there is consensus on the overarching ERIC concept, there are still many details to be worked out,” Barnett said during the forum.

Currently, the Public Safety Broadband Trust (PSST) is the licensee of public safety’s 10 MHz of broadband spectrum. PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen asked that the FCC clarify the role of ERIC quickly to ensure that the new entity does not “undo years of preparation and essentially start from scratch,” create duplicative roles or unduly tap public safety’s limited volunteer resources.

Bill Carrow, president-elect of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said it is important that the ERIC work with the PSST.

“We encourage the commission to address the role of the PSST and its relationship with ERIC as early as possible,” Carrow said.

PSHSB Deputy Chief David Furth said the FCC wants to “avoid duplication, and we don’t want to create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy” by establishing ERIC. In addition, Furth said he believes the ERIC and the public-safety broadband licensee will have different roles.

“ERIC is not intended to be the licensee or replace the licensee,” he said. “It will not hold rights to spectrum. It will not build and operate networks. It will not enter into partnerships or contracts with vendors.”

Other key issues raised by speakers were the need for the ERIC to have access to adequate funding, to be involved in establishing public-safety requirements for broadband technologies and to be a clearinghouse for “best practices” — from both a technical and coordination standpoint — that first-responder agencies can implement.

Barnett said the FCC is focused on finishing the national broadband plan, which is due to be submitted to Congress in less than two weeks. The FCC would like to act on the establishment of ERIC “shortly after that,” because of a variety of timing issues, he said.

“These [public-safety broadband] networks are taking off; we have people who are ready to build and therefore have waivers in,” Barnett said. “We certainly would like to see the waivers reviewed and acted on in early spring or late summer, depending on how fast we can get to them.”