Public-Safety Group Advocates Giving 4.9 GHz Spectrum to FirstNet
Wednesday, August 05, 2020 | Comments

A group of public-safety professionals, including two former First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board members, has asked the FCC to give the 4.9 GHz spectrum band to FirstNet.

The FCC is in the process of re-examining the 4.9 GHz band and determining what to do with it because it feels that it is currently underused. While the FCC has not yet made decisions on the band and has communicated an interest in preserving the public-safety purpose of the band, it has discussed potentially sharing the band with non-public-safety users or auctioning it.

“We really feel like it’s not theirs to do that with,” said Sue Swenson, former chair of the FirstNet board. Swenson noted that the FCC was correctly questioning if the band was underused but said there are ways that the band can be effectively used for public safety.

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA), which was formed by the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA) and other organizations, is now engaging the FCC in hopes of ensuring that spectrum remains accessible for public-safety use.

“Public safety does not want to lose that spectrum,” said Jeff Johnson, former vice chair of the FirstNet board. “We would like it to end up in the hands of FirstNet, which is specifically here for public safety, and they have a track record of using spectrum for public safety.”

FirstNet’s experience in taking the band 14 spectrum and leveraging it into the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) that is now the FirstNet network operated by AT&T suits it perfectly to take on the task of determining how to best use the 4.9 GHz band for public safety, Swenson and Johnson said.

Swenson noted how when the Middle Class Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2012 created FirstNet, it did not provide a lot of guidance specifically as to how the FirstNet Authority should set up the network and itself.

“They gave us the what, but the how had to be figured out,” she said.

That experience of taking the legislation, interpreting it and then developing the FirstNet program out of it gives FirstNet the expertise it needs to develop a plan to optimize the 4.9 GHz spectrum, Swenson said.

The members of the PSSA said they don’t know exactly what a plan for optimizing the spectrum would look like, but their goal right now is to ensure that the spectrum is set aside for public safety instead of other uses. Once that is ensured, public-safety stakeholders can begin looking at plans to optimize the spectrum, they said.

“if we don’t lock this up now, it won’t be available for us,” said Kim Zagaris, the former state fire and rescue chief for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES). While the members of the alliance don’t know exactly what a plan for the band would look like, Zagaris said he envisions it helping meet public safety’s ever-increasing demand for data capacity, as well as support future public-safety 5G capabilities. “It’s logical to think that public safety is going to need some 5G spectrum,” Zagaris said. “We’d have some engineering work to do here, but it at least gives public safety a space to move to.” Zagaris noted that more and more agencies are beginning to adopt and use broadband services in addition to their LMR systems, and as that demand increases, public safety will likely need more spectrum to meet it. So far, the PSSA has met with the FCC to start the conversation about the band and help inform the commission about public safety’s spectrum needs, Johnson said. A spokesperson for FirstNet said that it had learned of the proposal Aug. 5 and was in the process of reviewing it. Find more information on the PSSA here.

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