Multiple groups inside and outside the public-safety sector have submitted letters to the Federal Communications Commission asking that 700 MHz broadband spectrum dedicated to public safety be accessible to all government personnel — not just police, fire and EMS employees.

Currently, the 10 MHz of public-safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band is licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), which has expressed support for a broader interpretation of “public safety” in an FCC proceeding initiated after the city of Charlotte, N.C., asked the agency to clarify the matter. In the past, the FCC has interpreted existing statute — Section 337 of the Communications Act — to limit use of public-safety spectrum to police, fire and EMS personnel, PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said.

“[FCC officials’] position has consistently been — through two administrations — that Section 337 doesn’t allow it,” McEwen said. “That’s why we have judges, because lawyers disagree. All the lawyers I talk to on our side say that’s nonsense — they have the authority, they have the leeway, they just don’t want to do it.”

McEwen said the PSST believes that traditional public safety — police, fire and EMS — in a given area should be in charge of managing priority use of the spectrum but acknowledged that the airwaves should be accessible by other government and critical-infrastructure entities, as well. In addition to improving interoperability, such a structure could provide funding resources and economies of scale that would make it easier to meet the fiscal challenges associated with LTE networks, he said.

“We believe that we — public safety — should be given the authority to make whatever deals we want to locally, within a nationwide framework, obviously,” McEwen said. “There isn’t any reason why the water department or the library shouldn’t be able to use that spectrum when we don’t need it.

“I don’t see any reason not to let them do it, as long as the police, fire and EMS community are in charge of managing the capacity and priority when they need it. It’s as simple as that. And the same issue applies to utilities, critical infrastructure and others.”

Mark Crosby, president/CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), echoed this sentiment.

“From a spectrum-management standpoint, this makes sense,” Crosby said. “If you’re public safety, why would you exclude the road people, the people who run the water or the municipal-electrical departments. Aren’t they important?”

“You’re protecting American lives and property. It’s pretty unambiguous to me.”

Similarly, the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) has submitted comments to the FCC expressing its belief that the FCC has the authority to allow employees of government-owned utilities and for-profit utilities to access the 700 MHz broadband spectrum allocated to public safety.

The Charlotte proceeding does not request an FCC ruling regarding for-profit utilities.

While legal authorities are split whether current law give the FCC authority, several pending bills in Congress — some of which also call for reallocating the D Block to public safety — would establish the authority clearly.