Concessions announced this week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to first responders for setting up a public safety broadband network won't be sufficient, according to one of the most vocal law enforcement agencies supporting such a plan.
The New York Police Department's Deputy Chief Charles Dowd, who spoke with POLICE Magazine on Friday, called the FCC's Thursday announcement "a red herring."
The nation's largest law enforcement agency filed a white paper earlier in the week objecting to the plan, which would give additional bandwidth on a variety of frequencies.
"They're not giving us the kind of access we need," Dowd said. "The notion is that the extra spectrum is going to be available to us is not accurate. It's going to be available to everyone."
According to Dowd, first responders would compete with the public in a crisis, when data and voice networks are clogged.
The federal agency is presenting its national broadband plan to Congress in March. In the plan, the agency would set aside frequency spectrum to help law enforcement and fire agencies achieve "interoperability" — a term referring to reliable communication between various agencies during a crisis.
Building out such a network would allow first responders with various agencies to communicate with each other via two-way radio, ease the flow of wireless video surveillance footage and allow officers in the field to access federal databases quicker and more reliably.
On Feb. 25, Chairman Julius Genachowski released a statement supporting a broader allocation than previously expected.
In the statement, Genachowski calls the public safety network "a national priority" and says the national broadband plan will ask Congress to spend $12 to $14 billion over 10 years to create a grant program to fund the build out.
"The private sector simply is not going to build a nationwide, state-of-the-art, interoperable broadband network for public safety on its own dime," the Genachowski writes. "Local municipalities and states can certainly contribute some amount to sustaining any network that is built."
Congress, in 2005, mandated that U.S. TV stations shift to all-digital broadcasts and abandon analog spectrum between channels 52 and 69. Much of this cleared spectrum, in the 700MHz band, was sold in auctions that ended in March 2008.
The spectrum is ideal for wireless broadband services.
One of the blocks of spectrum, called D block, failed to sell as part of a plan for a shared commercial/public safety service.
The national broadband plan will recommend that the D block be resold in an auction with the caveat that public safety agencies would also have priority access to about 80MHz of spectrum, partly taken from the blocks sold to carriers including Verizon Communications and AT&T.
Dowd said law enforcement should be given 20Mhz of D block and the ability to build a network that's more robust than a commercial network that agencies could either develop themselves or partner with a commercial carrier to build.
The NYPD deputy chief did credit the agency for setting aside 10Mhz for agencies for priority access.
A group of police and fire chiefs lobbied for the plan during a mid-January trip to Washington D.C. Watch C-SPAN video of their press conference.
Since 9/11, agencies have been lobbying the federal government for a solution to communication gaps. As one example, given by Dowd, subway officers can't communicate with officers on the street level above them because they transmit on different frequencies.
"We talk about rolling out a broadband system nationwide, this is not an easy task," San Jose's Chief Robert Davis said at the time. "We do not have the option to not communicate with each other. This nation was not built on not tackling the difficult projects."
The agencies are supported by Verizon, AT&T and the Harris Corp., a leading provider of two-way radios for law enforcement. Listen to our podcast with Harris about this topic.