How Public Television and Datacasting Could Help Fight COVID-19
By Reynold Hoover
Monday, March 30, 2020 | Comments
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford recently addressed public television station managers to share his vison about the future of the Army’s information and communications technology needs. He spoke about leveraging existing infrastructure and capabilities to improve information sharing, resiliency and readiness for the Army. He acknowledged that the commercial sector is developing and deploying advanced technology that the Army can use to effectively meet these needs. Crawford said that taking advantage of these developments, rather than creating everything internally, can speed deployments and better equip and inform our troops.

Through America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) leadership and as a key part of their public service mission, public TV stations across the nation have offered a portion of their broadcast spectrum to public safety and responder organizations, including the U.S. military. These powerful broadcast signals can deliver encrypted IP data targeted to specific users or groups. This existing infrastructure creates a new secure nationwide wireless network, without impacting the public watching public TV at home.

As the COVID-19 virus closes schools, shutters businesses and stresses our public health system, instant access to video, files, images, alerts and other health emergency data delivered over public TV’s spectrum can provide continuity among health officials, community leaders, incident commanders and field operations that is not achievable by voice alone.

Digital television broadcasts use a technology called datacasting to deliver IP data embedded in the broadcast transmissions. Emergency response and other secure data can be encrypted before transmission, delivered nationwide to specifically targeted recipients and then decrypted on the receiving end. Public television datacasting works much like satellite broadcasts but at a much lower cost. Content can be received on simple and easy-to-deploy omnidirectional whip antennas.

While the television signals themselves are one way, data at the IP level can be integrated with other computer networks and systems to create an ecosystem that is resilient, flexible and scalable. While school systems have used public TV for decades, datacasting can now provide public health officials, the National Guard, the military and other first responders with tools for operating in disperse and distributed environments that will enhance situational awareness and information sharing.

As response, mitigation and containment operations expand; supply chain uncertainties grow; and the number of people working remotely increases, the ability to send once and receive at an unlimited number of end points, without running out of bandwidth or congesting existing networks, is a unique ability of public television’s datacasting. Domestic operations, shared situational awareness, common operations support, natural disaster support and a common operational picture can all benefit from access to additional bandwidth that is optimized for one-to-many delivery.

Imagine critical top-of-the hour briefings conducted as a live video report with charts, weather graphics, updated response documents and other related information are delivered in real time to an unlimited local, regional or nationwide audience. That is how public television works now, and that is how secure, encrypted, targetable information can be delivered over the public television wireless network.

Public TV operators are experts at delivering high-quality video to an unlimited number of recipients. Leveraging that expertise and the public television networks used to deliver it, is critical, for example, to emergency responders and public health offices partnering with public television.

Through its statutory mandate for universal service in our country, public television has a uniquely large geographic coverage footprint that reaches nearly every rural community in the country, serving nearly 97 percent of the population in our nation. Coupled with a hardened transmission infrastructure designed to survive natural disasters and to operate even when the commercial power grid is compromised, this system offers a compelling addition to the country’s critical communications infrastructure.

America’s public television stations do much more than most people realize. In addition to what you see on your television set at home, public TV is committed to using its resources to protect and educate American citizens. Early childhood education, public safety and civic leadership are three of the essential public service missions. Supporting our nation during times of crisis is a natural extension of this commitment.

“Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new technology first but rather to the one that better integrates and adapts it,” Crawford said.

Public TV stations and their ability to improve secure information sharing has been hiding in plain sight for more than a decade. Integrating capabilities such as datacasting into a system of systems that uses the most efficient path to deliver actionable information where it is needed will significantly enhance information sharing in the fight to stem the spread of COVID-19. This system is available now.

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Reynold Hoover is the former deputy commander U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and special assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security, Homeland Security Council. Prior to his NORTHCOM assignment, Hoover served at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as the mobilization assistant to the director for reserve operations. From 2014 to 2016, he served as the National Guard Bureau’s director of intelligence and chief information officer (CIO). In 2009 – 2010, he was the commanding general of the Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan, with lead responsibility for military logistics in Afghanistan. He served as a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for nearly 10 years, followed by a stint as an attorney in private practice. From 2002 to 2003, Hoover served as the chief of staff for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and helped lead FEMA’s merger into the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He then led FEMA’s Office of National Security Coordination. In 2005, he was appointed as special assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security. Hoover joined CSX in 2007 as assistant vice president for police and infrastructure protection. In 2011, Hoover returned to federal service as a senior intelligence service officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His last assignment was as the deputy director, Office of Public Affairs, a position he held until his retirement from federal civil service in 2018.

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