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Why D-Block allocation matters

Law enforcement and public safety must have a minimum of 20 MHz of broadband spectrum to meet current and future needs

Let’s pause for a brief reminder about why D-Block allocation matters (or should) to cops.

1. Safety: Commercial networks now used by public safety agencies cannot fulfill mission-critical police, fire, and EMS operations needed during a large-scale emergency — they’re simply not built to public safety standards of uptime, availability, and redundancy. These systems are not particularly fragile in normal circumstances, but we know that in a major catastrophe, everyone (and their cousin) will be trying to use the carrier network to contact friends and relatives to “see if they’re okay.” So, during a major emergency, when they would be most needed, the existing broadband communications systems would simply fail, putting first responders’ lives at risk. Needless to say, this totally unacceptable.

2. Efficiency: The fact of the matter is that public safety needs a full 20MHz of 700MHz spectrum to build a robust nationwide broadband network capable of carrying data, video, and eventually one day, voice transmissions. The 10 MHz D-Block is immediately next door to the existing 10 MHz of 700 MHz already occupied by public safety, and simply extending the build to the D-Block would completely eliminate a host of technical issues (radio interference is just one problem you’d get from building on two distinctly separate 10 MHz bands as opposed to a single 20 MHz swath) and significantly reduce cost and complexity of building the network.

3. Timing: Now, finally, the concept has support from the President of the United States. During a speech at Northern Michigan University, in Marquette (Mich.), Obama officially threw his support behind an initiative that was originally called for by the 9/11 Commission more than seven years ago. Almost at the same time that Obama was stumping for the cause of D-Block allocation to public safety, Representative Peter King of New York — who serves as House Homeland Security Chairman — reintroduced a bill to devote that very same (and very valuable) swath of 700MHz wireless broadband spectrum to public safety agencies for the purpose of building a nationwide, interoperable mobile broadband network. Representative King was joined by Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi in the introduction of the Broadband for First Responder's Act of 2011 (H.R. 607).

Recall that in mid-2010, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D – W.V.) introduced the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2010 (S. 3756), which builds on several proposed pieces of legislation already gaining momentum in Congress including the First Responders Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3625) and Broadband for First Responders Act of 2010 (H.R. 5081). In early 2011, Rockefeller reintroduced the bill for consideration. Rockefeller’s bill would, among other things, allocate the D-Block to public safety, establish a means by which technical standards would be developed, and perhaps most importantly, fund the construction and maintenance of the nationwide interoperable wireless broadband public safety network.

Assuming that the White House, Senate, and House plans coalesce as it presently appears they will, the 20MHz-wide, national, interoperable, wireless broadband network it produces would provide law enforcement and (other public safety agencies) with one of the key tools that has been missing in their mission of protecting lives in communities throughout the United States.

Admittedly, reasons two and three are a little esoteric, but that first reason alone should be enough for 99.99 percent of police officers to get behind this issue in one form or another. Just for good measure, here’s a fourth reason for your consideration:

4. Cold, Rational Logic: The major telecommunications companies voted a resounding “no thanks” the last time this segment of spectrum came up for auction in Spring 2008. To do the same thing over and over and expect a different result is Einstein’s definition of insanity. Let’s not be insane and instead do what must be done — work very hard in the next few weeks and months to press Congress to pass legislation that will allocate the D-Block to public safety and provide funding needed to build and maintain a nationwide broadband network for public safety.

Allocation of the D-Block of 700 MHz wireless broadband spectrum seems to be imminently upon us. As was reported in this space late last month (and previously here, and here, and here), the march toward allocation of the D-Block to public safety has been about as slow as molasses going uphill in wintertime. But now, it seems to have finally hit a double-time stride.

Law enforcement and public safety must have a minimum of 20 MHz of broadband spectrum to meet current and future needs and must have access to new technologies to perform increasingly complex duties. These technologies must have adequate and dedicated spectrum that is managed and controlled by public safety to ensure that they will be more secure and reliable than commercial systems. The D-Block allocation is essential if we are to meet the critical needs of our nation's law enforcement and public safety community.

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