New Federal and NPSTC Broadband Task Forces Move Forward
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Comments
 
 
A federal task force on public-safety broadband communications is in a developmental stage with the goal of providing continuous and direct input into the FCC's Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to help ensure that the needs of the public-safety community are being heard, said a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official. Separately, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) also formed a follow-on broadband task force.
 
The concept of a federal task force to address technical and governance issues surrounding the 700 MHz D block spectrum first surfaced last month during testimony by Greg Schaffer, DHS assistant secretary, Office of Cyber Security and Communications, at a House subcommittee on emergency communications, preparedness and response hearing. “Working in close partnership with the public safety and emergency response community, and with support from the FCC, the administration, through DHS and the Department of Justice is establishing a joint task force on public-safety interoperability to better understand and identify public-safety requirements, test assumptions and approaches associated with meeting those requirements, recommend technical, policy, process, and governance solutions, and coordinate with the FCC,” said Schaffer in his testimony.
 
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, then sent a letter to the White House asking for support for a task force to address the technical and legal frameworks. “Both the technical and legal frameworks for this type of plan must be evaluated, and capacity and capability outcomes understood, before any decision can be made regarding the spectrum requirements for public safety,” said Schaffer in his testimony.
 
The details of the task force’s formation are under discussion among administration and other federal officials, said Chris Essid, director of the DHS Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). He said issues such as priority access and roaming must be addressed regardless of whether the D block is auctioned or reallocated to public safety.
 
Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said a forthcoming notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) will address technical and legal issues for public-safety priority access on broadband networks. “LTE has 15 levels of priority built in,” he said.
 
At the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International conference Aug. 2 Barnett said a decision from the FCC about whether priority access and other technical issues should be hashed out before an auction is pending in the FCC chairman’s office.
 
DHS officials said a task force comprised of key federal public-safety practitioners from DHS, Department of Justice (DOJ) and other appropriate agencies, supported by input from state, local and tribal practitioners who participate in Safecom or via other means is the best way to determine the technical requirements for public-safety use of broadband networks. “You must have user requirements before you can build anything,” said Essid. “Then you can get that to the vendors so they can build product.”
 
However, DHS officials recognize that public-safety officials are already spread too thin. The FCC announced a 20-member public-safety advisory committee to the newly formed ERIC in June. In addition, public-safety officials are involved in the 700 MHz demonstration network under way through the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program and in DHS’ Safecom executive council. The federal interagency Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC) also takes a federal look at emergency communications issues.
 
“We will try not to be duplicative,” said Essid. “Public safety can only be on so many committees.”
 
Essid said that the industry must also keep in mind the interoperability continuum in the broadband world and that broadband technology must be integrated into the statewide interoperability plans as well. “Everyone is clamoring around technology,” Essid said. “But it’s not the only issue; there is governance, training and operating procedures that are just as important.”
 
Separately, NPSTC formed a follow-on broadband task force within the association’s technology working group. The group, open to anyone interested, will define follow-up issues, such as handset standards and compatibility with 9-1-1 centers, to NPSTC’s original broadband task forced formed in June 2009.
 
The NPSTC work will be tailored to the public-safety broadband waiver recipients and will look at technical and possibly operational issues, said Dave Buchanan, co-chair of the newly formed group.
 
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