WASHINGTON, January 25, 2011 - The FCC issued an order Tuesday at its January open meeting that set a 4G common standard for a nationwide, interoperable, public safety mobile broadband network.
The Order, which addressed changes recommended by the 9/11 Commission Report, would require the use of a Long Term Evolution (LTE) air interface in the 700Mhz range of radio spectrum allocated to public safety, as well as lay down other technical specifications for nationwide interoperability. LTE, a next-generation standard for mobile broadband, provides download speeds of at least 100Mbps and upload speeds of at least 50Mbps. The standard, along with several others currently emerging, are commonly referred to under the umbrella terms "4G," or "Fourth Generation."
The 9/11 Commission report, released in 2004, recommended improved communication capabilities not only between first responder agencies within the same geographic area, but also called for interoperability between similar agencies in different regions. That is to say, for example, equipment used by the Metro Police Department in Washington, D.C. should be able to communicate directly not only with the DC Fire Department, but also with other police departments across the nation.
Though the Order establishes rules for a common nationwide air interface standard, lingering questions over the future of the D Block have kept the FCC from fully developing a plan for a public safety network in the 700Mhz range.
The D Block is a segment of spectrum in the 700Mhz range - considered prime real estate for mobile broadband use - that the FCC attempted to auction off in 2008, but bids failed to meet the Commission's reserve price. Currently, the swath is allocated for use by public safety, however, Congress is expected to consider competing plans, one to re-auction the D Block to commercial licensees and another to reallocate it solely to public safety. Additionally, parties have considered a third option wherein commercial licensees would buy spectrum licenses at a re-auction and share the block with public safety .
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski declined to comment on the future of the D Block at a press conference following Tuesday's meeting, saying only that "the National Broadband Plan says what it says" with regards to recommendations on the block. The NBP recommends auctioning the 10Mhz segment to commercial licensees to help reallocate 500Mhz of spectrum to wireless broadband over the next 10 years.
Commissioner Robert McDowell, however, had fewer reservations expressing his support for an expeditious auction of the D Block.
"In a perfect world, we would have already finalized an order setting forth auction and service rules for the D Block spectrum," said McDowell. "I am eager to move to this step, which I urge that we undertake sooner rather than later."
All the commissioners agreed, however, that nationwide interoperability is both necessary and a long time coming.
"More should have been done immediately after 9/11 to address the needs of public safety," said Commissioner Michael Copps. "I called for it then, but little action was taken. Quite frankly, it is inexcusable that we still do not have a nationwide interoperable public safety network."