FCC’s Barnett Suggests Interoperability Center for Public-Safety Broadband (12/15/09)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
The chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB), Jamie Barnett, said plans for the D block spectrum and a nationwide broadband network for public safety likely will be outlined in the national broadband plan the FCC is on track to deliver to Congress by Feb. 17. Barnett said an emergency response interoperability center (ERIC) will likely be a component of the public-safety plan.

“We need to have a public-safety national interoperable broadband network,” Barnett said during a presentation at Silicon Flatirons in Boulder, Colo., Dec. 9. “But we’ll have to concentrate to make this work.”

Barnett noted several points related to public-safety broadband that will likely be included in the nationwide plan. “Broadband, if we catch it at the beginning, may offer some of the best opportunities for interoperability we’ve had in generations,” he said. “Agencies want to be able to use data. It’s on the horizon; it’s technologically possible.”

Barnett said the concept of the interoperability center, including the name, are still being discussed, but that “ERIC will help us move through prioritizations.” He said the center could be housed at the FCC or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or somewhere else. “We don’t know where it will be, but there’s a great deal of interest in ERIC,” he said.

Barnett said he wants to “put some teeth” in interoperability with grants and other options. He’s asked his staff to come up with four to five models. “If anyone wants to suggest something, now is a good time,” he said.

Barnett said the network will be expensive, and the federal government may have to contribute money to the effort. The network must have good coverage and reliability with dedicated public-safety access. He said the FCC has looked at 27 possible funding plans from the federal government paying for the entire network to encouraging commercial entities to build the network. “We think the solution is somewhere in between public/private partnerships and local governments getting sub-licenses, so they contract with commercial providers,” he said. “And through grants and other funding, they can bring the public-safety network up to standards where public safety can actually use it.”

Barnett said the network must be nationwide and leverage Internet standards. He said implementing commercial technology will help keep costs down and allow public safety to be on the cutting edge of new technology and that local authorities should be able to choose their own vendors. “If you’re pushing public-safety broadband to rural areas, there’s no reason commercial carriers couldn’t provide broadband to consumers in rural areas,” Barnett said.

Barnett also said the bureau staff are considering whether to designate a technology for the public-safety broadband network, something it generally hasn’t done in the past. “We’re looking hard at Long Term Evolution (LTE),” he said. “There may be a natural progression toward that, but maybe the FCC should state that.”

The national broadband plan will also discuss how broadband will play a role in next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), Barnett said. “The 9-1-1 network infrastructure is decades old and relies on circuit-switched technology,” he said. “We’re trying to move beyond that. The real goal of NG 9-1-1 is to improve response. The nation’s 9-1-1 system is not taking advantage of broadband capabilities. The plan will mention this as well.”

He also said utilities could be included as secondary users of a nationwide public-safety network, and expanding the network to more users could bring down the cost, although priority levels would be in place. In addition, the PSHSB chief noted the increasing importance of cyber security and updating the nation’s emergency alerting system.

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