Key public-safety organizations want the FCC to determine that public-safety communications in the 4.9 GHz spectrum should continue to be prioritized, but they express different opinions about the role that utilities and other critical-infrastructure entities should have in the band, according to recent filings with the FCC.

Comments about the 4.9 GHz band—a 50 MHz swath currently dedicated to public-safety communications—were submitted to the FCC as part of a proceeding initiated in March, after FCC commissioners expressed concern about perceived underutilization of the spectrum and raised the possibility of permitting commercial use on the airwaves.

National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) opposed the notion of auctioning the 4.9 GHz spectrum or allowing general commercial use, but the organization expressed support for the idea of granting critical-infrastructure (CII) entities co-primary status within the band.

NPSTC’s comments note the organization’s 2013 recommendation “that two of the 5 MHz channels be made available for CII immediately upon a commission decision on modifying the rules and that three years later, the entire 4.9 GHz band be opened to CII. NPSTC stands by that recommendation.”

In contrast, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) said it disagrees with the NPSTC recommendation, stating that it does not believe that critical-infrastructure entities should be allowed to operate in the 4.9 GHz band on a co-primary basis with public safety.

“Instead, the Commission should expand eligibility to CII with the conditions that 1) use is only for communications related to the protection of life, safety, and property, as opposed to general business purposes, and 2) CII use is secondary and preemptible by public-safety agencies,” according to the APCO filing. “These conditions would be consistent with Commission precedent.”

Although FirstNet is building a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) for first responders, that initiative should not be considered a substitute for 4.9 GHz broadband, according to APCO.

“The 4.9 GHz band allows public-safety agencies to tailor localized solutions to their specific operational and geographic needs,” the APCO filing states. “This complementary role for the band is consistent with the Commission’s recognition of the need for localized broadband communications solutions, such as those possible in the 4.9 GHz band, to exist alongside macro-network solutions. This need has not gone away.”

Jeff Cohen, APCO’s chief counsel and director of governmental relations, echoed this sentiment, describing the 4.9 GHz as “public safety’s Wi-Fi band” that complements broadband coverage from FirstNet or another provider.

“Other than the point-to-point uses, it’s public safety’s Wi-Fi band … to do localized, high-bandwidth-intensive uses,” Cohen said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Our point is that public safety should have both options in a broadband world. They should have a macro-cellular network like FirstNet, and they should have a Wi-Fi-like band to use for different reasons.”

Utility advocates noted that its sector does not have any designated broadband spectrum to support high-reliability applications that are crucial to smart-grid deployment. In a joint filing, the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and the GridWise Alliance expressed support for the NPSTC proposal to let critical-infrastructure entities utilize the 4.9 GHz band on a co-primary basis with public safety.