Add the emergency medical service (EMS) community to first-responder groups asking Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block — currently slated for a commercial auction early next year — to public safety for a proposed nationwide, wireless broadband network.

In a letter to key leaders in the House and Senate, seven EMS-related organizations — the Association of Air Medical Services, Advocates for Emergency Medical Services, the Emergency Nurses Association, the National Association of Emergency Medical Services Physicians, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the National Association of State Emergency Medical Service Officials and the National Emergency Medical Services Management Association — said they support legislation calling for D Block reallocation.

"While the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan proposes to provide public safety roaming and priority access on other commercial 700 MHz networks for a fee, this proposal relies on untested technologies and new regulations that cannot ensure reliable and resilient communications capabilities to meet stringent public-safety needs," the letter states. "Therefore, we also oppose the FCC's proposal to hold another commercial auction for the D Block."

Kevin McGinnis the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) said getting all groups in the diverse EMS arena to agree on many things can be difficult, but he said the consensus support for D Block reallocation was done in less than two weeks.

"One thing, over the past few years, my colleagues have come to realize is that broadband is our lifeblood for the future," McGinnis said during an interview with Urgent Communications.

McGinnis said the capabilities of remote diagnostic and treatment applications that paramedics can use — or soon will be available — continues to increase, but the effectiveness of those applications often can only be maximized if they can be shared in real time with a doctor who typically will be at another location.

"[Newer advanced monitoring applications] all have communications implications, and none of them will be supported by the communications systems we're using today — narrowband VHF and UHF," McGinnis said.

In particular, McGinnis said applications monitoring multiple vital signs typically require data throughputs between 75 KB/s and 125 KB/s per patient. Even more daunting is the 1 MB/s to 3 MB/s needed for medical-quality video at a resolution high enough for a doctor to make a remote diagnosis. Subtle differences in the color of blood, skin, eyes and lips need must be discerned in such situations, so lower-resolution video feeds are not really an option.

Meanwhile, more high-bandwidth applications are on the way. The fear within the EMS community is that the 10 MHz of spectrum currently licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) will not be enough to support these applications — plus those supporting mission-critical applications for other first responders, like fire and EMS — in a given cell sector covering an incident scene, McGinnis said.