Solving multiagency formula may be key to 700 MHz broadband success
HOUSTON — As Congress debates whether reallocate the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and how much funding help it can afford to give to ensure that the network is built and maintained properly, it would do well to also examine who should be allowed to access the network.
Of course, the driving force behind the network is public safety — making sure that police, fire and EMS personnel have the bandwidth to get the information needed to make critical decisions is the primary goal. But these first responders don’t work in a bubble, and recognizing that fact could play a significant part in allowing the network to be leveraged most effectively from an operational and funding standpoint.
Operationally, the scenarios are all too common. If a live power line is down at the scene, all the police and fire resources often are of little use until the utility company can make it safe for the first responders can operate. Similarly, transit authorities often are needed on short notice to get traffic cleared or speed an evacuation effort. And EMS personnel can do their jobs much better if they are able to communicate with hospitals about medical advice and available resources in the area. And some decisions may require approval from a city manager or mayor.
Of course, if public-safety groups are the only entities using the proposed hardened broadband networks, they may have difficulty communicating with these important ancillary sources of information and aid.
In addition, as many have noted repeatedly, it will be difficult for budget-strapped local and state agencies to find the money to help pay for a network dedicated only to public safety, which will be challenged to simply maintain legacy LMR networks.
However, if multiple government departments — inspection, parks and recreation, sanitation, information technology, etc. — are allowed to leverage the 700 MHz broadband network, finding funds becomes more palatable, because internal resources and federal grants can be leveraged from multiple sources.
To date, much of the debate surrounding the D Block has centered on propagation characteristics and bandwidth, which is a difficult thing for many elected officials to comprehend. What these lawmakers understand very well is the notion of return on investment and the fact that having a robust, reliable network that makes all aspects of government work together more efficiently is better than building multiple networks for different silos that no one can afford to harden.
Of course, in an ideal world, for-profit utilities and hospitals also could access the proposed broadband network when needed. Crafting language to allow for such for-profit entities to use a network funded largely with government dollars could prove to be tricky, but it should be doable — and beneficial. After all, utilities and hospitals have a lot of money but little dedicated spectrum, which should make them excellent partners for public safety, which could have lots of spectrum but little funding.
Such partnerships offer considerable promise, but attempting to forge these agreements over just the 10 MHz of spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust would be difficult, because public safety must have priority on the network and there would be little benefit to others in times of emergencies. However, with the D Block and the PSST spectrum, there should be enough airwaves to provide the flexibility needed to make these deals work for everyone involved.
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