Public safety prepares for final D Block push
Next week, Congress is scheduled to return to session, after spending the past month away from Capitol Hill. There are no hearings or votes during the break, so there is no way to make any tangible progress toward the passage of legislation.
But that doesn’t mean that public-safety representatives also were taking a break during the past month. In fact, first-responder officials have conducted multiple meetings with key lawmakers in their home jurisdictions — away from the hustle and bustle of the Beltway — to address questions about the need for 700 MHz D Block reallocation and funding to make the goal of a nationwide public-safety broadband network a reality.
“There were lots of those meeting all during August,” mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold said. “The public-safety people did not just take a vacation when Congress did. They sought out the people they needed to talk to in their own districts.”
Seybold joined local sheriffs in one such gathering with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who “asked a lot of intelligent questions” about the prospect of D Block reallocation and federal funding for a first-responder LTE network.
Yesterday, a group of public-safety representatives met with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to discuss the same topic. As expected, Cantor did not expressly state a position on the D Block–reallocation debate, but he displayed a “genuine feeling of interest” and asked “engaging questions,” according to Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Chief Charles Werner, who was one member of the public-safety contingent.
“I was very encouraged by the fact that we had the meeting,” Werner said. “I was very encouraged by the level of engagement that [Cantor] and his staff had with those of us in public safety. I was pleased with what I thought were reasonable questions that he asked that … kind of gave me the thought that he learned some things that will be important for his decision-making in the future that he may not have known before that meeting.”
Other public-safety officials have cited similar meetings with other lawmakers during the past several weeks, with similar results. There are no reports of a big position shift by an elected official but a lot of thoughtful conversation about an important topic — the kind of discussion that is tough to have amid the chaos on Capitol Hill, where “debate” often is limited to sound bytes.
Such thoughtful discourse should be beneficial to public safety’s cause, especially with some of the other ancillary events. With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks just 10 days away, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission released a report endorsing the “immediate” reallocation of the D Block to public safety.
Related story: D Block legislation vote not expected by 9/11 anniversary
In addition, the East Coast has endured tremors from a significant earthquake and a hurricane during the past week. Some have proposed that public safety could use commercial networks during times of emergencies, but these events suggest otherwise — for different reasons. In the case of the earthquake, the massive volume of people trying to communicate with loved ones exceeded the capacity of the commercial networks. During the hurricane, many commercial networks were unavailable because they were not hardened enough to remain operational.
Related story: PSA–Va. earthquake underscores need for dedicated network
Needless to say, neither scenario meets the needs of public safety.
“If the network doesn’t work when we need it, then we don’t need the network,” Werner said.
It is unrealistic to expect any commercial operator to build a network that is designed to meet the capacity and reliability demands of public safety when emergency hit. With this in mind, establishing a dedicated, public-safety-grade broadband network with access to sufficient spectrum should be a priority for Congress this fall.
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