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FCC Outlines Public Safety Network

The FCC is asking Congress for up to $16 billion to develop a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.

The official in charge of the Federal Communications Commission's public safety and homeland security bureau issued details Wednesday on the FCC's hoped-for nationwide interoperable public safety wireless broadband network.

In his blog, bureau chief James Barnett noted that the FCC is asking for between $12 billion and $16 billion to fund the program, which also seeks approval of a next-generation 911 emergency service. The FCC held a meeting Wednesday to examine technical design, operation, and evolution of the nationwide network to be based on 700-MHz spectrum.

Government and private groups have been seeking to improve the nation's patchwork public safety operations since they generally failed during the 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina. An earlier attempt to improve the systems also failed two years ago when an attempt by the FCC to auction off a section of the 700 MHz D-Block didn't attract any serious bids.

"Our central recommendation is the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband wireless network through incentive-based partnerships between public safety agencies and the partner of their choice," Barnett wrote in his blog, adding that the FCC's plan "also recommends that the FCC create an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure a baseline of operability and interoperability for the network nationwide."

Scores of firms and commercial operations have expressed interest in participating in a nationwide public safety network or networks. Barnett suggested that roaming and priority access on commercial networks by public safety units could help public safety responders to obtain network access when and where they need it.

Barnett also pointed to a recommendation in the FCC's broadband plan submitted to Congress Tuesday that seeks suggestions on how to improve cybersecurity. The FCC would coordinate with the executive branch to identify pressing cybersecurity threats and develop a plan to counter the threats.

Another proposal in the broadband plan calls for the development of a broadband-based multi-platform, redundant, next-generation alert system to help reach a wider audience and better support underserved communities.

"The Plan also asks the President to clarify agency roles on the implementation and maintenance of a next-generation alert and warning system," Barnett said. "This would be an important step toward improved, timely, and coordinated federal implementation of next-generation alerting systems."

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