APTS Says FirstNet Should Integrate Datacasting into Network, Devices
Monday, January 13, 2020 | Comments

America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) and two regional carriers filed ex parte comments in the FCC’s proceeding on petitions for a declaratory ruling and rulemaking filed by the Boulder (Colorado) Regional Emergency Telephone Service Authority (BRETSA) last year.

Representatives from APTS took the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and AT&T officials to task for not being “willing to open serious discussions with APTS on a way forward to integrate public television datacasting technology into the FirstNet ecosystem.”

APTS said datacasting would benefit public-safety users if it was interoperable with the FirstNet network. APTS member stations agreed to commit 1 Megabits per second (Mbps) of their spectrum to support FirstNet in a 2016 industry resolution.

“However, unless this cooperation is forthcoming from FirstNet and/or AT&T, the commission may wish to engage through oversight or other action to ensure that the nation’s first responders have the full benefit of public television’s datacasting capability,” APTS said in its filing. “In an ideal world, the commission would encourage the integration of datacasting and, if necessary, mandate that ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) 3.0 broadcast chips be included in all public-safety phones and devices. Such action would allow for a transparent hand-off of datacasting from public TV broadcast stations to the public-safety LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, allowing for a two-way mobile communications path.”

ATSC 3.0 is the newest TV broadcasting standards with several public-safety applications. ATSC 3.0 broadcast chips have been integrated into phones in South Korea, the group said.

APTS has noted that datacasting can greatly assist public-safety users in rural areas. “The commission should proceed with an inquiry to examine how the current interoperable arrangements that FirstNet and AT&T have established are serving public safety, particularly in rural areas.”

In a November meeting with FCC officials, FirstNet representatives said: “We explained that the [BRETSA] petitions seek measures that are inconsistent with and not actionable under the FirstNet Authority’s enabling statute, and which would damage the FirstNet program fought for by public safety and prescribed by Congress.”

“Even assuming that FirstNet and AT&T are correct that they are not required to do more than they are currently doing to integrate other public-safety networks and services, the commission should examine whether this interoperable arrangement is satisfying the needs of public-safety users, particularly in rural areas where FirstNet/AT&T coverage may be lacking,” APTS said.

The group has worked extensively with the Department of Homeland (DHS) to demonstrate and test the capabilities of datacasting for public safety.

FirstNet officials did not return a request for comment by press time.

In a separate filing, representatives of Southern Linc and C Spire said the FCC should grant the declaratory ruling to prompt FirstNet to interoperate with communications systems used by public safety and adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking to begin a process for the FCC to establish clear interoperability standards for public-safety communications standards.

“Without such standards, deployment of FirstNet across the country will lead to situations in which communications systems are no longer interoperable when they are needed most, especially during natural disasters and emergencies,” the regional carriers said. “These problems are manifest today and will persist or increase unless the commission establishes clear interoperability standards under the FCC’s authority over non-federal spectrum under Title III of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and under its authority to take all such actions necessary to achieve the commission’s over-arching statutory directives, including ‘promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.’ ”

The Southern Linc and C Spire filing is here.

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