Roughly a dozen years ago, I was involved in a very nasty car accident. A knucklehead tried to race through the intersection two blocks from my home before the light turned red. He badly mistimed the effort and slammed into the front passenger side of my vehicle, which had just crossed into the intersection. My car was beyond totaled; the impact bent the frame into a V-shape, according to my insurance adjustor. Worse, my son’s head was split open through his eyebrow — like a melon hammered by a mallet — because it collided with the airbag at the wrong angle. The wound required 60 stitches, artfully applied by a plastic surgeon, to close.

I thought about that incident for the first time in a very long time after participating in a webinar a couple of weeks ago on mobile broadband data for first responders. The wide-ranging discussion eventually found its way to the proposed nationwide broadband network for first responders that would operate in the 700 MHz band. Panelists Steve Jennings, the chief information officer for Harris County, Texas — in which Houston is located — and Jon Fullinwider, the chief information officer (retired) for Los Angeles County, both spoke of the wondrous new capabilities that this network could spawn.

That’s what got me thinking about the crash. I started to contemplate how such a network might have helped my son had his very serious injury been life-threatening. In such a circumstance, would his treatment have been aided had the emergency medical technicians been able to transmit photos of his wound to emergency-room doctors? Would those doctors have been better able to monitor his condition if a medical telemetry system had been in place?

Both Jennings and Fullinwider believe the federal government needs to step up to the plate to get this network built, as has been suggested by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility — the nation's two largest wireless operators. Both carriers are calling for a separate stimulus package to underwrite the cost of the buildout, which largely would leverage existing commercial infrastructure in a network-of-networks approach.

"If this is a national imperative, the feds are going to have to throw some money at this," Fullinwider said.

What they throw the money at is an equally important consideration, according to Jennings. "They need to fund a national infrastructure," he said. "It's a blatant waste of money for the feds to build their own systems independent of state and local systems. At a major incident, the feds can't communicate with the state, the state can't communicate with the locals, and the locals can't communicate with other locals. It just doesn't make good sense."

When I asked whether it would be folly should this network never be built, both panelist answered — virtually in unison — "absolutely."

As the victim of a horrific car accident, I couldn't agree more. And, as a taxpayer, I'd be perfectly happy if the feds threw some of my hard-earned cash at an initiative that indeed should be a national imperative.

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