Obama outlines plan for D Block, public-safety funding
President Barack Obama today outlined an initiative that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and provide $7.5 billion in federal funding to help pay for a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
Known as the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative, the Obama plan is designed to make 4G high-speed wireless service to 98% of the U.S. population and free up 500 MHz of spectrum to support the growing mobile-data market. Service to rural areas — locations often not included in rollouts of new technologies because of economic limitations — would be funded in part by a one-time $5 billion federal investment and reform of the Universal Service Fund.
“This isn’t just about faster Internet or being able to find a friend on Facebook; it’s about connecting every corner of America to the digital age,” Obama said during a speech this afternoon in Marquette, Mich.
In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama expressed support for a proposed public-safety broadband network on 700 MHz spectrum. Today, Obama said the 700 MHz D Block — a 10 MHz swath adjacent to 10 MHz of broadband spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) — should be reallocated to public safety to provide a spectral foundation for the proposed first-responder network.
But one of the greatest concerns among government officials is that cash-strapped local and state governments are not in a financial position to pay for public-safety LTE networks throughout the country — in particular, in rural communities that lack funding to pursue such deployments.
With this in mind, the Obama initiative calls for $7 billion in a federal program to support the buildout of the proposed public-safety network, as well as another $500 million from a newly established Wireless Innovations (WIN) fund to pay for associated research and technical development to gear the LTE networks for public-safety needs.
“We’re going to accelerate breakthroughs in health, education and transportation and deploy a new nationwide, interoperable wireless network for first responders, making sure they’ve got the funding and the frequencies that they were promised and that they need to keep us safe,” Obama said.
A White House press release indicates that the Obama initiative calls for a $10.7 billion commitment to the public-safety broadband network, but $3.2 billion of that figure is the projected value of the D Block.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would reallocate the D Block to public safety and would provide as much as $11 billion in funding from the proceeds of future spectrum auctions, but some lawmakers would prefer that the D Block auctioned to commercial operators — as current law mandates — with the proceeds used to reduce the growing federal-government deficit.
Under the Obama plan, the 500 MHz of spectrum would generate an estimated $27.8 billion, which includes the $3.2 billion value of the D Block that would be reallocated to public safety. Of this total, $10.7 billion would be used to support the public-safety broadband network, $5 billion would be used for rural broadband deployments, $3 billion would go to the WIN fund, and $9.6 billion would be allocated for deficit reduction.
Richard Mirgon, past president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, said public-safety organizations “greatly appreciate everything the administration has done” regarding the prospective 700 MHz public-safety broadband network. The Obama speech capped “a very good week” of public-safety representatives getting new commitments from lawmakers on Capitol Hill for D Block reallocation and federal funding of first-responder LTE networks, he said.
“The fact that people seem to be agreeing about [D Block] reallocation and focusing on funding is a very good sign,” Mirgon said. “There seem to be fewer people today that support an auction than even three months ago.”
For more information on communications for public safety, attend these sessions at IWCE in Las Vegas, March 7-11, 2011.