For APCO, challenges never cease
Vincent Stile has a lot on his plate as president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials. While the 800 MHz Consensus Plan has stolen the show recently, Stile is focused on several lower-profile yet highly significant developments for public safety, such as fighting for more spectrum, ensuring that new technologies — such as voice over Internet protocol — adequately support the 911 system, and working to upgrade public-safety answering points (PSAPs) nationwide to FCC Phase II status (which requires PSAPs to provide location information for wireless 911 calls). MRT recently spoke with Stile about the challenges facing APCO.
Public-safety agencies are in desperate need of more spectrum. Do you think a clear deadline should emerge for television broadcasters to transition off the 700 MHz band?
I think it’s up to Congress to allow it to happen. But it seems like Congress is more concerned about the small percentage of over-the-air users — and it’s actually a small percentage of users. A small portion of the entire spectrum has been allocated for public safety, while these broadcasters have had a slew of frequencies and haven’t done anything with them up until now. Ironically, we’ve been accused of not being efficient with our spectrum, but the major metros are so jam-packed, and the usage is unbelievable.
What would public safety do with additional spectrum should it become available?
It would be used for the new technologies coming out for public-safety use in the area of high-speed data — for instance, the transmitting of fingerprints. The technology is available to us, but we can’t use it because we don’t have the spectrum to put it on.
Are there creative ways to solve some of the shortages, such as leasing spectrum or partnering with commercial players?
I’m not against that, but the concern is that partnering becomes inefficient to the extent that we don’t know when an emergency is going to happen. God forbid you have a terrorist attack, a train wreck or a plane wreck. We need that spectrum immediately, and that becomes somewhat of a hassle and a difficulty to kick them off. That’s the difficult part of it. That’s the concern. As far as spectrum in trunking technology, we can partner and work with commercial carriers in that area just as long as it does not impact the mission-critical portion of the communications.
Now that the FCC has allocated the 4.9 GHz band for public safety, what types of applications do you see?
4.9 is a great technology. When the FCC gave us that, it was great. What it does is help us out in hot-spot areas. This is not meant for wideband operations, or regular or normal communications. In one particular case, the NYPD came to me and said, “Vinny, I need something to monitor the underside of the Brooklyn bridge because there have been some threats.” This is perfect for that. In this kind of situation, they can use 4.9 and have it go back to the dispatch area in Brooklyn. In situations where a terrorist event is a possibility, you can set up a 4.9 GHz system to create an immediate monitoring station and get the data back to headquarters or the command post.
What are your concerns about launching 802.11-compliant technology in the 4.9 GHz band?
Some of the vendors — I won’t mention names — want a relatively tight emission mask, while the FCC has a broader range and we in public safety have a mid range. We don’t want the emission mask so broad that we don’t have good, efficient use of the spectrum, but we do want the ability to have other vendors get involved in this. I believe also we’re looking into bringing in the ability of 5.8 GHz, which is the commercial side, and why not have it be able to work together?
What challenges remain to E911?
First of all, we need to get the PSAPs to come up on E911. That’s the challenge. APCO has been fortunate to be able to provide close to $14 million to PSAPs across the nation to help them implement E911. That’s what needs to be done. That’s what we’re about. We’re out to save lives. Location is important. The technology is there; it just needs to be implemented.
What exactly is holding up PSAP implementation of E911?
Carriers pretty much know what they have to do. Now it’s up to PSAPs to make that conversion. Part of the problem is that the money is not there for them to upgrade (see related story on page 6), but part of it too is a lack of understanding as to what they have to do. We’re trying to educate them. APCO is putting on webinars, training sessions and symposiums. I’m not saying they don’t understand at all, but they don’t know exactly what they have to do to make things work. We’re ready and willing to help get that information across.
Lawmakers obviously want the FCC to take a light-handed approach when it comes to VoIP services. Yet APCO clearly is concerned about E911 access. Can a balanced solution be found?
VoIP technology is fantastic, and we support that 100%, but when it comes down to the public utilizing a VoIP phone, we have a problem if we don’t know where they are.
There have been a number of cases already. Someone is calling on an Internet line, and they’re calling from Texas and we’re having the call come into Tennessee. We can’t have that happen. That’s where it has to be regulated. John Q. Citizen doesn’t realize what’s happening. Let’s face it: to most people a phone is a phone. They figure, if they call 911, emergency responders will know where they are. That’s not true. That’s what we’re concerned about.
APCO 2004 AT A GLANCE
What: 70th Annual Conference and Exposition
When: Aug. 8-12, 2004
Sponsor: Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International
Keynote address: Aug. 9 — Dr. Robert M. Gates, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Featured presentations: Aug. 9 — Gregory Rohde, executive director of the E911 Institute; FCC Regulatory Review Panel, moderated by Robert Gurss, APCO director of legal and government affairs; Aug. 9, 10, 12 — PSAP tours; Aug. 10 — “Supersession” on the FCC’s 800 MHz rebanding order