October 2009 MHz Update: The FCC, the LMR letter, and D-Block reallocation
The PoliceOne MHz Update provides a quick look into what’s current in mobile communications and computing for law enforcement. This month we look at a letter sent to the FCC by Harlin McEwen regarding a misconception by some that there will soon be a wireless broadband alternative to Land Mobile Radio, an ordinance in Texas that prohibits “texting while driving” and the latest developments in the D-Block debacle. What do you think are the most important problems (or solutions) for mobile data and voice communications for law enforcement? Add your comments below or send us an e-mail.
McEwen to FCC: Please dispel misinformation on LMR and 700MHz
Earlier this month, Harlin McEwen, Chairman of the IACP Communications and Technology Committee, wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in which he said that there is a “growing misconception by some that in two to three years wireless broadband will be an alternative to Land Mobile Radio (LMR) mission critical voice systems. It also appears that some believe that the 12 MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band designated for public safety narrowband voice systems should be reallocated for public safety broadband.”
To dispel this misinformation, McEwen prepared a white paper which stated (in part) that there are no technical broadband standards in place or planned to provide the one-to-many communications and talk around (unit-to-unit) capability needed for mission critical public safety voice communications.
“Public safety agencies have already spent millions to deploy land mobile radio voice systems in the narrowband 700MHz spectrum with many more deployments being planned,” McEwen wrote.
McEwen says in that while paper that it will be many years (if ever) before LMR systems can be replaced entirely by broadband technologies. “The public safety community has endorsed Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the preferred broadband standard for public safety data products and the latest version of that standard (V8) is strictly a data standard that does not include voice capability.”
Austin cops exempt from “texting while driving” ordinance
It was reported in the Austin American Statesman in mid-October that that a proposed ban on “texting while driving” unanimously passed a vote of the City Council and will take effect on November 2, 2009. From that newspaper article — written by staff writer Sarah Coppola — are instructions to local drivers in the Texas Capitol City that “the ordinance will prohibit writing, sending or viewing electronic messages on a cell phone, BlackBerry, iPhone,or any wireless communication device while driving.” Sending, e-mails, posting on sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc., as well as entering ‘a command or request to access an Internet site’ will also be prohibited, according to the report.
Of interest to law enforcement is the fact that drivers of public safety vehicles will be exempt from this ordinance.
Coppola wrote that the ban has drawn fire from the local chapter of the ACLU. “Debbie Russell of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union questioned why public safety employees would be exempt, saying texting while driving poses the same risks for them. She added that the ban could be tough to enforce and may lead to intrusive searches of wireless devices as police or prosecutors gather evidence against violators.”
Regardless of the exemption to police officers, Travis Yates writes in an excellent PoliceOne Mobility Tip related to driving that there are specific ways in which you can manage the many tasks (reading a mobile display terminal, changing radio frequencies, and yes, checking your mobile phone) in a safe manner. Check out that tip here.
Getting closer to a national interoperable communications network?
This month marks the 20-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked Northern California. In the two decades that have transpired since then, we’ve had several major natural disasters, myriad “little” ones, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Still, despite multiple efforts by many great minds, there remain significant impediments to the types of truly interoperable voice and data communications that will be required in the event of another catastrophe.
PoliceOne had a phone conversation with Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes of the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department during the IACP Conference in Denver, and learned that some indicators show movement toward a resolution to that problem.
“It is well established that public safety personnel need a wireless broadband network with priority access that has a nationwide footprint, is interoperable and shared, and incorporates the latest technologies utilized by the private sector,” Reyes of the told PoliceOne. “The fact is, today the general public has better wireless communication capabilities than most first responders. These robust broadband wireless networks available to the public have created the expectation that public safety personnel can communicate with one another, regardless of discipline or geography. In an effort to expedite the transition and deployment of this spectrum to the public safety community, the FCC, public safety organizations, and industry representatives developed a proposal to create a network that would be based upon a public-private sector partnership model.”
Reyes told PoliceOne that the Major Cities Police Chiefs 700MHz Working Group will take the lead in pursuing congressional action to remove the D-Block from auction and to allocate it directly to public safety as part of the nationwide public safety broadband license now held by the PSST.
“The good news is that the spectrum remains reserved for public safety,” says Reyes.
Read the full report on our conversation with Eddie Reyes by clicking here.
Congress may move to reallocate D-Block public safety
In related news, Paul Kirby at TRDaily reported in mid-October that Jamie Barnett (who serves as chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau) that the “national broadband plan that the FCC must complete by next February will likely provide ‘a rank order of recommendations’ on how to move ahead on a national public safety broadband network.”
Barnett reportedly told Kirby at TRDaily “that recommendations will be based on actions Congress might take, such as reallocating the 700MHz D-Block to public safety, as most in the public safety community want.”
Kirby wrote in his brief (sent to PoliceOne via e-mail so no link is presently available) that “Barnett said he’s been trying to stress in every speech the need for everyone to push for a national public safety broadband network.”
Whether that national network emerges as a single, unified entity or whether it evolves as a patchwork of regional networks all meeting a set of national standards (read more about that possibility here) remains to be seen.
As always, stay tuned...