A big voice in the Big Apple
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A big voice in the Big Apple
After almost 20 years working as an officer in the New York City Police Department — most of the time working on patrol in the narcotics division and in the detective bureau — Charles Dowd was told in 2000 that his job description was about to change.
“At some point, it was decided that it would be a very good idea if I tried communications,” Dowd said. “It was kind of a surprise. My initial thoughts on it were, ‘I don't have any background in this. How am I going to do?’”
Just nine years later, Dowd today is a deputy chief in the NYPD and one of the most controversial figures in public-safety communications. Like the Yankees — the legendary baseball team that also hails from New York — just the mention of Dowd's name tends to elicit strong sentiments from within the public-safety community, both supportive and critical.
But, as is the case with the Yankees in the baseball world, virtually no one in the public-safety community ignores what Dowd has to say. Not only does he represent the largest city in the U.S., but it's a city that is a primary focus of homeland-security concerns and at the forefront of several cutting-edge efforts in the first-responder arena.
Supporters consider Dowd a visionary for his steadfast belief in the power of broadband technology for public-safety communications — and the need for local agencies to control the deployment of those technologies throughout the country.
Critics argue that Dowd's broadband goals are too risky for the near term and that his positions selfishly would undermine nationwide interoperability efforts, resulting in another generation of patchwork-quilt communications systems that would be eerily similar to the proprietary public-safety networks that have been under intense scrutiny.
In particular, critics note that Dowd has been outspoken in his opposition to two of the biggest public-safety interoperability efforts proposed during the last two decades — Project 25 and the attempt to build a nationwide wireless broadband network at 700 MHz through a public/private partnership. Theoretically that partnership would be between a commercial operator and the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), which holds the nationwide license to public safety's broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
In the case of P25, Dowd said the time for that suite of standards — and all other narrowband technologies — has passed, at least for the NYPD and many other agencies.
“Everybody that I've talked to in the technology arena concedes — at least privately — that broadband is the way to go,” Dowd said. “Is anybody telling you that narrowband is the way to go, other than them being mandated to do it? … Nobody wants to do it. They're doing it because they're being told they have to do it. There's a different way to be efficient, and that's the goal that we should be driving toward now.”
Of course, broadband service is the goal of the FCC's public/private partnership plan, which failed last year but is expected to be revisited this year. While broadband is a worthy goal, the nationwide proposal led by the PSST did not address the needs of the local agencies that were supposed to be targeted as subscribers, Dowd said.
“We want to support some solution that creates flexibility, so folks have a choice about how they want to proceed at 700 MHz — whether it's build your own [network], a partnership half and half or whether you want to rely on a common commercial carrier to build your network,” he said. “That should be up to [local agencies], and I think that's a flexibility that's been absent from the discussion with the PSST. We want that to change, and I think most people want that change.”