Emergency Communications: Policy Options at a Crossroads
Policy Options at a Crossroads
January 30, 2007
Linda K. Moore
Analyst in Telecommunications and Technology Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Emergency Communications: Policy Options at a
Wireless communications capacity and capability provide essential support to
emergency workers. First responders, state, local, tribal and federal emergency
officials, utility workers, ambulance drivers, hospital personnel, forest fire fighters,
federal law enforcement agents, the National Guard, and members of all branches of
the military are among those who might respond to an emergency and need to be
equipped to communicate among themselves and with each other.
The management of spectrum that carries wireless communications for public
safety and homeland security has emerged as a time-critical policy issue for the 110th
Congress due largely to several recent actions by Congress and the Administration,
some with near-term deadlines.
Congress has mandated that an important band of spectrum be released for
public safety use not later than February 18, 2009 (Deficit Reduction Act, P.L. 109-
171, Sec. 3002). Congress has also mandated that a billion-dollar fund for public
safety communications, created by the Deficit Reduction Act, be fully distributed by
the end of FY2007 (S. 2653). As part of the Homeland Security Appropriations Act,
2007, Congress put in place a number of requirements for an Office of Emergency
Communications that, among other objectives, is to work with community, state and
regional representatives to develop a national emergency communications capability
(P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Subtitle D). Funding for part of this effort would be
authorized as part of H.R. 1 (Representative Thompson).
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is
moving forward with the Presidential Spectrum Policy Initiative planning process
which includes evaluating spectrum use for public safety and homeland security. The
Spectrum Advisory Committee created for this effort has announced that it will study
several advanced systems operated by public safety agencies that might serve as a
model for designing a national system.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in December 2006,
announced a proposed rulemaking for a plan to provide a national emergency
communications network using the spectrum band assigned by Congress to public
safety, noted above. At the core of the FCC proposal is the appointment of a not-
for-profit entity to administer access to the designated spectrum and to design a
network that would be shared by public safety and commercial users.
These various initiatives appear to be moving in different directions. Congress
may opt to establish policies for spectrum management that could require other
approaches or objectives by the various agencies and departments involved.
This report will be updated.
Emergency Communications and Spectrum.........................1
Background: Importance of Spectrum..............................2
Technology-Driven Choices Influence Policy Decisions...............3
Recent Actions, Plans, and Proposals..............................6
DHS, Office of Emergency Communications....................7
The Executive Office and the NTIA...........................8
Are Policy Changes Needed?....................................12
Emergency Communications: Policy Options
at a Crossroads
Emergency Communications and Spectrum
Through various acts of Congress, the public safety community is poised to
develop a national, wireless, emergency communications capacity with
unencumbered spectrum, a mechanism for planning, and funding. With the passage
of the Deficit Reduction Act, Congress established an important milestone toward
improving emergency communications by providing a date certain for the release of
spectrum for new radio channels.1 Previously used for analog television broadcasting,
24 MHz of wireless capacity at 700 MHZ will become available to public safety in
2009.2 By requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish an
Office of Emergency Communications, Congress has legislated the creation of a
forum to reach agreement on an interoperable communications plan. Congress has
not passed legislation, however, regarding how the soon-to-be-released spectrum
should be used.
There are currently three major initiatives to develop plans that could
incorporate spectrum at 700 MHz in solutions for public safety communications to
improve interoperability and resiliency. One initiative is Congress’s mandate to DHS
to bring together a diverse body of experts and develop a National Emergency
Communications Plan that would rely, at least in part, on shared networks.
Second, an initiative by the Administration to improve spectrum efficiency gives
responsibility to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
(NTIA)3 to provide policy recommendations that include spectrum uses for homeland
security and public safety. An Advisory Committee created by the NTIA is studying
public safety tests of networks at 700 MHz.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has jurisdiction over
spectrum used by state and local public safety agencies, is pursuing its own initiative.
1 Radio frequency spectrum is measured by the frequency of cycles per second, or hertz
(Hz). Standard abbreviations for measuring frequencies include kHz — kilohertz or
thousands of hertz; MHz — megahertz, or millions of hertz; and GHz — gigahertz, or
billions of hertz. For example, the 700 MHz band refers to those channels that are
designated for technologies that transmit signals at speeds within or near 700 million cycles
2 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3002 (a) (1) (B).
3 The NTIA, part of the Department of Commerce, is under the direction of the Assistant
Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information; among its responsibilities is
the management of spectrum used by the federal government.
It is seeking comment on a plan to use spectrum at 700 MHz assigned to public
safety for a shared network that would operate under its regulatory supervision.4
The FCC’s proposal includes many elements favored by a majority of public
safety participants,5 but — by taking over the management of public safety radio
channels at 700 MHz — it would apparently minimize the role of the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) in planning for interoperable communications. Some of
the unresolved policy choices brought into focus by the FCC proposal are:
!Direction of national planning for emergency communications.
!Control of network operations.
!Joint management by agencies.
!Regulatory vs. legislative authority.
!Funding sources and distribution.
The schedule set for rulemaking means that the FCC could move forward in the
creation of an interoperable network as early as spring 2007. Congress may change
the terms of the debate by setting its own timetable, objectives, and parameters for
creating a national authority to manage a public safety network at 700 MHz. Options
for Congress that have been suggested by public safety experts include requiring the
Department of Homeland Security to expedite its own plans, requiring greater
participation of the FCC in the DHS planning process, curtailing the right of the FCC
to regulate network development for public safety, and turning over management of
spectrum used for public safety to the NTIA. There are also other efforts and
proposals, some of which are summarized in this report, that Congress may consider.
Background: Importance of Spectrum
Radio frequency spectrum is used for all forms of wireless communications.
Spectrum licenses are allocated within bands of designated frequencies, divided into
bandwidths, or channels. Licenses are assigned, as is the case for state and local
public safety agencies, or auctioned to commercial entities. As new wireless tools
are developed to help emergency responders, the demand for spectrum increases.
Finding appropriate spectrum to carry these vital transmissions as well as finding
ways to use spectrum more efficiently are among the policy decisions to be addressed
as part of the national effort to develop a robust, interoperable, emergency
4 FCC, Ninth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Docket No. WT 96-86, released December
5 See, for example, position papers by the Association of Public-Safety Communications
Officials - International (APCO) at [http://www.apcointl.org/government/HSTFWP.pdf];
the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) at
[http://www.npstc . o r g/ d o c u me n t s / N P S T C% 2 0 B r o a d b a n d % 2 0 P o s ition%20Final%20120
and papers from the Aspen Institute such as Clearing the Air: Convergence and the Safety
Enterprise, 3rd Annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy, May 3 -5, 2006.
Pricing spectrum access for all users, or auctioning all spectrum and creating
property rights, are market-driven methods for allocating spectrum that could
maximize economically efficient use. In the case of public safety, however, demand
may be inelastic and substitution difficult with the result that the cost to the public
is increased without any compensating gains. The need for spectrum capacity among
first responders and other emergency workers is variable. When radio
communications are routine, public safety’s demand for spectrum is modest. In times
of crisis, demand for spectrum exceeds availability. Identifying spectrum that public
safety can share — with commercial users for example — is also considered a
possible means to use valuable spectrum more efficiently.
Although, cumulatively, radio frequencies designated for non-federal public
safety total over 90 MHz,6 the characteristics of these frequencies are dissimilar,
requiring different technological solutions. Although the fragmentation of spectrum
assignments for public safety has some advantages for voice communications, it is
a significant barrier to achieving needed broadband capacity for the future. It is one
of the technical problems that plague public safety communications, such as out-of-
date equipment, proprietary solutions, network congestion, and interference among
systems. Providing new spectrum at 700 MHz for broadband communications
capabilities,7 including interoperable connectivity, is viewed by many as the optimal
solution for overcoming problems caused by incompatible radio frequencies and
technologies, as well as for enhancing communications capacity for public safety.
Because 700 MHz is viewed as highly desirable for consumer-oriented applications,
some believe that a means should be found for public safety and commercial users
to share radio frequencies in this band.
Technology-Driven Choices Influence Policy Decisions
As noted above, the FCC has proposed the building of a network, accessible
nationwide, that would require standardized interfaces. This model, which mirrors
the organization of commercial wireless service in the United States, represents a
significant departure from existing public safety radio operations. Like most public
safety support services, radio communications have historically been built primarily
for local operations, often with proprietary solutions that limit interoperability. With
post-9/11 emphasis on improving interoperability, three technology-based solutions
for nationwide interoperability have dominated policy making. These are: radios —
pursued primarily through standard setting; gateways — supported through guidance
from DHS and federal grants; and networks — recognized as a potential solution but
6 Estimated at approximately 97 MHz in Testimony of Michael K. Powell, Chairman,
Federal Communications Commission, at Hearing of Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation, “Spectrum for Public Safety Users,” September 8, 2004.
7 Broadband refers to the capacity of the radio frequency channel. A broadband channel can
transmit live video, complex graphics and other data-rich information as well as voice and
text messages whereas a narrowband channel might be limited to handling voice, text and
Radios. One solution for achieving interoperability is to build it into the radios
carried by first responders and other emergency workers, requiring standardized
models that work on multiple systems. Radio standardization is part of a suite of8
standards being developed through an effort known as Project 25 (or P25). Project
25 is the accepted standard for radio interoperability. The radio-based solution to
interoperability conforms to recommendations made in 1996 by the Public Safety
Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) regarding the improvement of public safety9
communications over wireless networks. P25 radios can be costly, from $600 to
$1,000 for general purpose radios, and $3,000 for radios that meet standards for10
Gateways. A second technology choice, also developed partly in response to
recommendations made by PSWAC, are gateways — also known as bridges, or as
cross-talk or cross-patch systems, among other terms. The gateway is a “black box”
that can accept wireless transmissions on one frequency standard and resend them on
other frequency standards. As a result, they are inefficient users of spectrum, since
a single message is using two or more frequency assignments. Gateways can provide
interfaces for modern systems but not for older, obsolete radios. Although gateways
typically use Internet Protocol (IP) to connect to information technology systems,
some components are proprietary and have limited interoperability with rival gateway
solutions. Early gateway solutions were tested through the AGILE Program, created
by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).11 Project 25 members are working to
complete a standard for public safety gateways, the Inter-Sub-System Interface
(ISSI), that would enable full interoperability for future gateway solutions. Gateways
have become the centerpiece of current efforts by DHS to achieve situational
interoperability.12 Over the long term, DHS expects gateway solutions to evolve into
8 Project 25 is chartered by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials -
International (APCO). Meetings to develop standards are managed by the
Telecommunications Industry Association, an ANSI- standards-setting body. See
[http://www.tiaonline.org/standards/technology/project_25/index.cfm/]. Viewed January 10,
9 “Final Report of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee,” September 11, 1996.
The committee was disbanded after publication of its recommendations.
10 Speakers at a CRS-sponsored seminar provided equipment cost estimates. Public Safety
Communications: Interoperability Technology Workshop, November 17, 2003. Estimates
were reconfirmed during briefings held in December 2006.
11 AGILE stands for Advanced Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement. It has
since been absorbed into other programs carried out in cooperation with DHS. See
[http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/commtech/25cities/welcome.html]. Viewed January
12 See, for example Department of Homeland Security Press Conference on Assessment of
Interoperable Communications, January 3, 2007 (transcript provided by Federal News
Service), and Homeland Security Press release, “Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff at the Tactical Interoperable Communications Conference,” May 8, 2006
at [http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/speeches/speech_0281.shtm]. Viewed January 10, 2007.
a “standards-based shared system.”13 Gateways range in price from $500,000 for
basic capability into millions of dollars for a large, customized system.
Networks. A third technology choice, considered but not adopted at the
federal level, is a network solution.14 A network solution requires agreement from
multiple jurisdictions to deploy compatible equipment and interfaces that can provide
links anywhere in the network. A national network might be comprised of regional
agreements grouping states that are working to develop networks that are available
to local and tribal emergency workers. The technology exists to achieve
interoperability through a network, what are lacking are a mechanism to achieve
agreement and the leadership to set the mechanism in motion and guide it to
resolution. The 9/11 Commission broached the subject of creating a network in its
recommendation that high-risk urban areas “should establish signal corps units to15
ensure communications connectivity.” Congress embraced the 9/11 Commission
recommendation and instructed DHS to explore solutions modeled on the Army
Signal Corps, using a national architecture, and compatible with commercial
The DHS has been focused on the installation of gateways17 and developing18
interoperability “from the bottom up,” and has not announced plans to use
spectrum at 700 MHz to develop an interoperable network capability that could, over
time, be extended through interfaces to existing systems. Reportedly, Jay Cohen,
DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology, has advocated the concept of a19
digital backbone to achieve interoperability. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has
voiced support for an interoperable network at 700MHz if Congress decides to free
13 See Homeland Security/SAFECOM “Interoperability Continuum” at
[ h t t p : / / www.saf e comp r ogr a m. g o v / N R / r donl yr es/ 65AA8ACF-5DE6-428B-BBD2-7EA4B
F44FE3A/0/Continuum080106JR.pdf]. Viewed January 25, 2007.
14 Some states and metropolitan areas are building their own communications networks at
700 MHz to assure interoperability across functions and jurisdictions. New York State and
the Washington, D.C. area are two examples.
15 The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11
Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States, (Washington: GPO, 2004), p. 397.
16 These and other legislative requirements are described in CRS Report RL33747,
Emergency Communications Legislation, 2002-2006: Implications for the 110th Congress,
by Linda K. Moore.
17 DHS Press Release, “Fact Sheet: Rapid Com 9/30 and Interoperability Progress,” July 30,
18 Testimony of Dr. David G. Boyd, Program Manager, SAFECOM and Deputy Director,
Office of Systems Engineering & Development, Science and Technology Directorate,
Department of Homeland Security, Hearing of the House of Representatives, Committee on
Government Reform, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental
Relations and the Census, “More Time, More Money, More Communication?” September
19 “DHS Science Chief Backs Digital Solution to Communications Woes,” by David Perera,
GOVEXEC.com, Daily Briefing, November 30, 2006.
up additional spectrum for that purpose;20 these are recent statements, however, and
not part of a formal policy.
Absent federal action for a network solution that would encompass state, local,
and tribal public safety users,21 the private sector has responded, through comments
filed with the FCC, with proposals to use 700 MHz spectrum to create the needed
network for public safety. Some of the proposals would share network capacity with
commercial users, offsetting the cost of building the network by charging fees for
access. Although the cost for such a network is undetermined, the estimated cost for
the federal Integrated Wireless Network was originally reported to be $10 billion.22
Some industry estimates have given a $1 billion to $2 billion range for the build-out
of a commercial broadband network reaching the top 150 markets.23 A national
network would cost more, but how much more would depend on many variables that
should be resolved in the planning process. Building interoperability into a network
reduces the cost for new radios, bringing the prices to public safety within the range
of devices used by consumers on commercial networks.
In part because of recent actions by the FCC, new attention is being paid by
policy-makers to the potential of a network solution to provide interoperability for
public safety. But this approach has not been pursued by DHS since its creation.
Therefore, a new debate is underway on how to build a network for public safety
interoperability without a comprehensive discussion among federal policymakers
about the need for such a network. The following discussion provides an overview
of key actions that might frame a national debate.
Recent Actions, Plans, and Proposals
This overview does not cover all the organizational and technological solutions
that are being used or tested, or have been proposed. However, the following reflects
the major considerations and breadth of the debate.
DHS, Office of Emergency Communications. The Homeland Security
Appropriations Act, 2007 created an Office of Emergency Communications within
DHS to lead a cooperative planning effort to create a “national response capability”
20 Department of Homeland Security Press Conference, January 3, 2007 op. cit.
21 A network primarily for federal users, the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), is being
planned as a joint program by the Departments of Justice, the Treasury, and Homeland
Security. It is primarily for federal law enforcement. See Memorandum of Understanding
Between the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the
Department of the Treasury Regarding a Joint Tactical Wireless Communications System,
at [http://www.usdoj.gov/jmd/iwn/schedule.html]. Viewed January 10, 2007.
22 “Massive Federal Wireless Project Delayed,” by Wilson P. Dizard III, GCN, March 30,
23 Reported in an overview of proposals for 700 MHz by dailywireless.org at
[http://www.dailywireless.org/ 2006/12/18/fcc-movi ng-on-700mhz-public-s afety-interop/].
Viewed January 11, 2007.
for communications.24 A section of this law — P.L. 109-295, Title VI , Subtitle D
— the 21st Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006 — established an
Office of Emergency Communications and the position of Director, reporting to the
Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications.25 The Director is
required to take numerous steps to coordinate emergency communications planning,
preparedness, and response, particularly at the state and regional level. These efforts
are to include coordination with Regional Administrators26 appointed by the FEMA
Administrator to head ten Regional Offices.27 Among the responsibilities of the
Regional Administrators is “coordinating the establishment of effective regional
operable and interoperable emergency communications capabilities.”28
Among the key responsibilities assigned to the Director of Emergency
Communications is to assist the Secretary for Homeland Security in carrying out the
program responsibilities required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act in Sec. 7303 (a) (1) [6 U.S.C. 194 (a) (1)], in response to
recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. Other responsibilities of the
Director include conducting outreach programs, providing technical assistance,
coordinating regional working groups, promoting the development of standard
operating procedures and best practices, establishing non-proprietary standards for
interoperability, developing a National Emergency Communications Plan, working
to assure operability and interoperability of communications systems for emergency
response, and reviewing grants.29 Required elements of the National Emergency
Communications Plan30 include an evaluation of the feasibility of developing a
mobile communications capability modeled on the Army Signal Corps.31 General
procedures are provided for coordination of emergency communication grants,32 and
for a Regional Emergency Communications Coordination (RECC) Working Group.33
In requiring broad-based representation in the composition of the RECCs,
Congress responded to requests from the public safety community to include the
second tier of emergency workers in interoperable communications planning. Non-
federal members of the RECC include first responders, state and local officials and
emergency managers, and public safety answering points (911 call centers).34
Additionally, RECC working groups are to coordinate with a variety of
24 More information is available in CRS Report RL33747, Emergency Communications
Legislation, 2002-2006: Implications for the 110th Congress, by Linda K. Moore.
25 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b) ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(a) and ‘(b).
26 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 671(b) ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(c) ‘(7).
27 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 611, ‘Sec. 507 ‘(a) and ‘(b).
28 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 611, ‘Sec. 507 ‘(c) ‘(2) ‘(C).
29 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801.
30 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1802.
31 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1803 ‘(d) ‘(4) ‘(A).
32 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1804.
33 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1805.
34 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII,‘Sec. 1805 ‘(b) ‘(1).
communications providers (such as wireless carriers and cable operators), hospitals,
utilities, emergency evacuation transit services, ambulance services, amateur radio
operators, and others as appropriate.35
The Executive Office and the NTIA. Beginning in 2003, President George
W. Bush has issued several memoranda to establish and guide a national Spectrum
Policy Initiative, led by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. As required
by the President, the Secretary submitted a plan to implement recommendations
previously provided by the Federal Government Spectrum Task Force. The planning
process is being guided by the NTIA, which has established seven projects dealing
with aspects of spectrum policy, including to “satisfy public safety communications36
needs and ensure interoperability.” One component of the response is to examine
the feasibility of sharing spectrum among commercial, federal and local public safety,
and critical infrastructure applications. In conjunction with the FCC, the NTIA is
seeking to establish a test-bed of radio frequencies for shared use between federal37
and non-federal users. Another component of the public safety project is the
evaluation of wireless technologies by a Spectrum Advisory Committee that the38
NTIA has created to assist in the development of the policy initiative. Reportedly,
the committee will be studying existing public safety communications programs that39
might provide a model for a national system. One of these programs is the
Wireless Accelerated Responder Network (WARN) currently being tested in
Washington, D.C. WARN uses 700 MHz for a network that supports broadband
communications in the Washington metropolitan area. The proponents of WARN
advocate a “network of networks” to resolve the nation’s need to assure emergency
communications capacity and interoperability.40
FCC. In December 2005, the FCC submitted a report to Congress on spectrum
needs for emergency response providers, as required by provisions in the Intelligence
Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-458).41 For the study,42 the FCC
35 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII,‘Sec. 1805 ‘(c).
36 Spectrum Management for the 21st Century; plan to implement recommendations of the
President’s policy initiative, U.S. Department of Commerce, posted March 14, 2006, at
37 FCC, “Federal Communications Commission Seeks Public Comment on Creation of a
Spectrum Sharing Innovation Test-Bed,” ET Docket 06-89, released June 8, 2006.
38 See [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2006/specadvisory_110306.pdf]. Viewed
December 27, 2006.
39 “Commerce Dept. Spectrum Advisory Committee to Study Testbed Launch,” by Howard
Buskirk, Communications Daily, December 14, 2006.
40 See [http://www.spectrumcoalition.dc.gov/img/2007_01_11_WARN.ppt]. Viewed
January 9, 2007.
41 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle D, Sec. 7502.
42 Report to Congress on the Study to Assess Short-term and Long-term Needs for
Allocations of Additional Portions of the Electromagnetic Spectrum for Federal, State and
Local Emergency Response Providers, Federal Communications Commission, December
sought comment on whether additional spectrum should be made available for public
safety, possibly from the 700 MHz band. Comments received from the public safety
community overwhelmingly supported the need for additional spectrum, although
other bands besides 700 MHz were also mentioned. The FCC did not make a
specific recommendation for additional spectrum allocations in the short-term
although it stated that it agreed that public safety “could make use of such an
allocation in the long-term to provide broadband services.”43 It qualified this
statement by observing that spectrum is only one factor in assuring access to mobile
broadband services for emergency response. It further announced that it would move
expeditiously to determine whether the current band plan for the 24 MHz at 700 MHz
currently designated for public safety could be modified to accommodate broadband
applications.44 Subsequently, in March 2006, the FCC issued a request for proposals
for a new band plan that would allocate spectrum for broadband use by first
responders within the 24 MHz currently assigned for public safety. The same
proposed rulemaking also asked for additional comment on the possible adaptation
of a wireless broadband standard for interoperability.45
The FCC received over 1,000 responses by December 2006, with many
comments from the public safety community and commercial wireless interests. One
petition, from a company called Cyren Call Communications Corporation, received
widespread publicity in the press and through lobbying to Congress. The petition
requested the reallocation of 30 MHz (half of the 60MHz currently designated for
auction for commercial use by the Deficit Reduction Act)46 to a “Public Safety
Broadband Trust.”47 According to the proposal, the trust would lease capacity not
used by public safety to commercial operators that would provide the network
infrastructure. The FCC denied Cyren Call’s petition, citing, among other reasons,
the Congressional mandate to auction the spectrum Cyren Call proposed to use.48
Other proposals for joint operations were also submitted. One proposal, developed
by Access Spectrum and Pegasus Communications Corporation, suggested
accommodating broadband wireless by rebanding the 24 MHz allocated to public
safety and adding 3 MHz from existing guardband allocations, with some of the
spectrum shared with commercial operators.49 Verizon Wireless reportedly proposed
Viewed January 17, 2007.
43 Ibid., paragraph 99.
44 Ibid., paragraph 100.
45 FCC, Eighth Notice of Proposed Rule Making, WT Docket No. 96-86, released March 17,
46 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3003.
47 For a summary of the proposal and a copy of the filing, see [http://www.cyrencall.com]
Viewed January 9, 2007.
48 FCC, Order, RM No. 11348 released November 3, 2006.
49 One description of the proposal is provided in jopint comments filed with the FCC at
[http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/retrieve.cgi?native_or_pdf=pdf&i d _document=65183
to build a broadband network for public safety use on half of the 24 MHz of spectrum
assigned to public safety, using the other 12 MHz for mixed use, with the cost of
building the infrastructure recovered through leasing arrangements and fees.50
In December 2006, the FCC issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
(NPRM) that proposed to turn over management of the 24MHz of spectrum
designated for public safety to a not-for-profit group. This group would, among other
responsibilities, hold a national license that would support public safety with a
broadband wireless backbone.51 In the NPRM, the FCC states that it is responding
to “an opportunity to put in place a regulatory framework that would ensure the
availability of effective spectrum in the 700 MHz band for interoperable, public
safety use.”52 To help develop these regulations, the FCC is presenting for comment
a“plan that we believe may best promote the rapid deployment of a nationwide,
interoperable broadband public safety network . . .[with] a centralized and national
approach to maximize public safety access. . . .”53
The NPRM outlines seven points: (1) allocate 12 MHz from the 700 MHz band
assigned to public safety for broadband use by state and local public safety members;
(2) assign this 12 MHz of spectrum to a single licensee, nationwide; (3) permit this
licensee to operate commercially on the remaining 12 MHz allotted to public safety
with public safety having priority access when needed; (4) permit the licensee to
provide public safety broadband access on a fee for service basis; (5) permit the
licensee to provide unconditionally preemptible access to commercial operators; (6)
facilitate the shared use of commercial mobile infrastructure; and (7) “establish
performance requirements for interoperability, build out, preemptibility of
commercial access, and system robustness.”54
In the NPRM, the FCC states its case for how the proposal meets objectives for
“public safety communications in the twenty-first century”55 and provides some
information about the selection of a national licensee and the license-holder’s
obligations. The FCC proposes that the licensee should meet criteria such as not-for-
profit status, experience with public safety frequency coordination, and the ability to
directly represent all public safety interests. The licensee’s responsibilities would
include the design and implementation, build-out, and maintenance of a national
network, the coordination of eligibility for access for public safety, and the leasing
50 “Verizon Wireless Pitches Plan to Build Public-safety Network using 700 MHz Band,”
by Heather Forsgren Weaver, RCR Wireless News, September 6, 2006.
51 FCC, Ninth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Docket No. WT 96-86, released December
52 Ibid., paragraph 2.
53 Ibid., paragraph 3.
54 Ibid., paragraph 4.
55 Ibid., paragraph 11.
of capacity to commercial users.56 The licensee would be able to charge fees for the
use of its services, such as access to the network, to both public safety and
In the NPRM, the FCC requests comments be filed no later than 45 days after
publication in the Federal Register58 with reply comments due within 60 days after.
Topics on which comment is requested regarding the National Public Safety Network
!Broadband Communications. How to “best implement a
!System Architecture. “Should the national public safety licensee
have the discretion to choose the best system architecture, or should
the Commission establish system architecture requirements . . . ?”
!Nationwide Interoperability. The proposal requires that the
licensee be required to construct a network that would provide
interoperability for all devices operating on a national broadband
public safety network. The FCC seeks comment on whether it
should require IP-based standards for network access or whether it
should require interoperable solutions that accommodate legacy
systems. It seeks comment on other solutions and on the cost-
benefit trade-offs of various interoperability requirements.
!Federal Access. Comment is sought on opening the network to
federal users, including the Department of Defense.
!Network Build-Out. The FCC seeks comment on “appropriate”
timing and scope and on several of its suggestions on how to move
the build-out quickly and efficiently.
!Network Resiliency and Disaster Restoration. Comment is
sought on what requirements the FCC might impose on the network
for resiliency and disaster restoration and whether “robustness
requirements be imposed on all public safety systems, not just the
national public safety system.”
!Local Needs. The FCC seeks comment on whether the national
public safety licensee should permit local entities operational
discretion — and how much — within the norms of the network.
56 Ibid., paragraph 27.
57 Ibid., paragraphs 28 - 30.
58 Posted January 10, 2007; comments due February 26, 2007.
59 Ibid., paragraphs 31 - 37.
!Definition of Public Safety. The FCC proposes to use the
definition of public safety services provided in the Communications
Act [47 U.S.C. § 337 (f)(1)] which states that providers are state or
local government entities or authorized non-governmental
organizations that do not make their services commercially
available. This statutory requirement could influence the manner in
which the FCC structures and awards the proposed national license.
The NPRM also seeks comments on secondary operations by commercial users
on the remaining 12 MHz of spectrum assigned by Congress for public safety use.
Currently the FCC permits public safety licensees to lease spectrum assigned to them
only for use by other public safety entities. The FCC uses the NPRM to propose
exempting the new, national public safety licensee from limitations it imposes on60
existing public safety entities.
The FCC plan is expected to be modified in response to public comment.61
Whatever the merits of the final plan, its approval by the majority of Commissioners
would shift responsibility and jurisdiction away from federal departments to a not-
for-profit entity regulated by the FCC.
Are Policy Changes Needed?
Under law, spectrum is considered a natural resource, owned by the federal
government,62 and is assigned for use by others, but not sold. The building of a
network on spectrum assigned to public safety is a significant policy decision
affecting not only the daily safety of the public but also the security of the nation.
Some of the administrative, regulatory, and legislative considerations that have
been brought to the forefront by the FCC proposal are:
!Composition of and network operations control by the proposed
not-for-profit entity. If the cost of building a network is offset by
allowing commercial use, will the network operator show a
preference for solutions that mesh with commercial interests or will
it give priority to developing interfaces that support other federal and
state programs for emergency communications? Non-commercial
interoperable communications needs might, for example, extend to
911 call centers, emergency alert systems, border security, and to
other emergency workers, often referred to as the “second tier.”
60 Ibid., paragraph 45.
61 See the statements made by FCC Commissioners at the time of voting to proceed with the
Ninth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
62 The Code of Federal Regulations defines natural resources as “land, fish, wildlife, biota,
air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies and other such resources belonging to,
managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United
States...” (15 CFR 990, Section 990.30).
!Joint management by agencies. The FCC and NTIA have a history63
of working together to develop and implement spectrum policy.
What role, if any, would the NTIA, the Presidential Spectrum
Initiative, and the Spectrum Advisory Council play in advising,
directing or regulating the development and operation of any
network? How would management of the 700 MHz network
interface with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, the
National Response Plan and other federal authorities with
responsibilities for establishing and maintaining emergency
!Regulatory and legislative actions. The FCC is using its
regulatory authority over spectrum use to take action in an area
(improvement to public safety communications) where Congress has
assigned responsibility to DHS. Should Congress seek means to
coordinate the FCC plan with planning efforts at DHS? Or take
some other action to assign responsibility for planning and
!Spectrum management. What are the best policies to encourage
efficient use of spectrum by public safety? Market-driven pricing has
been proposed by the FCC, among others. If this is applied only to
usage at 700 MHz, would it be effective policy to have a two-speed
regulatory framework for public safety spectrum licenses, with one
set of rules for 700 MHz and different rules for other spectrum
!Congressional jurisdiction. In the law that created the Office of
Emergency Communications, Congress specified that, in reviewing
interoperable emergency communications plans, the emergency
communications director would exclude the review of spectrum
allocation and management.64 Congress has yet to make decisions
about jurisdiction for programs planned and funded by DHS that
operate on spectrum managed by the FCC and the NTIA.
!Funding. Funding of $1 billion expressly for interoperable
communications is mandated for 2007.65 This would be in the form
of a distribution from the Digital Television Transition and Public
Safety Fund created by the Deficit Reduction Act. According to
language directing distributions from the fund, grants are to be spent
for “the acquisition of, deployment of or training for the use of
interoperable communications systems that utilize, or enable
63 A recent example is collaboration on the development of a spectrum test-bed. FCC,
“Federal Communications Commission Seeks Public Comment on Creation of a Spectrum
Sharing Innovation Test-Bed,” ET Docket 06-89, released June 8, 2006.
64 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671, “Sec. 1801 “(c) “(12).
65 P.L. 109-459, Sec. 4.
interoperability with communications systems that can utilize”66
spectrum at 700 MHz.67 New federal funding for interoperable
communications is under consideration.68 Many propose that the
cost of a new network built on public safety spectrum be funded
with access fees from users. How will existing and planned federal
funding programs be applied to include a private operator for the key
In the light of these and other questions, Congress may decide to revisit
emergency communications policy and management at the federal level through
hearings and oversight, as well as to clarify Congressional priorities and goals
This report has described three separate policy initiatives from different sectors
of the federal government that appear to be moving in different directions. This
situation can be attributed, in part to the division of jurisdictional and institutional
responsibilities in both the Executive and legislative branches of government, and in
part to the absence of any recent crisis that would raise the profile of emergency
Without guidance from Congress or the Administration, it is possible that these
three initiatives will continue to develop along dissimilar paths with little or no
apparent coordination. If so, what would be the likely impact on emergency
Of the three initiatives, the proposal by the FCC — which is sponsored by the
Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau it created in 200669 — seems to be the
most far reaching. Although it is possible that the FCC will extend the time for
public comments and also deliberate extensively, it could move to allocate the
spectrum to a quasi-commercial entity70 in 2007 for development by 2010-2011. This
could possibly preempt any decisions or recommendations from the NTIA and DHS,
which are operating within unspecified but apparently longer time frames.71
In a different scenario, the FCC might provide a bridge connecting the Regional
Emergency Communications Coordination (RECC) Working Group that DHS is to
create to Regional Planning Committees like those the FCC originally formed to
66 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3006 (a) (1).
67 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3006 (d) (3).
68 H.R. 1, Title II.
69 See [http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/].
70 The level of public safety participation in managing the proposed network is not specified
but half the network is to be available for commercial use.
71 The reorganization plan that DHS must submit to Congress that includes the Office of
Emergency Communications is due on March 31, 2007 (P.L. 109-295, Sec.614). There is
no required date when the office must begin operations.
develop the 700 MHz band plan and agreements on interoperability. The FCC could
then bring to the RECC table the benefits of regional representation, technical
expertise, and a broad sample of public opinion from its rulemaking efforts. A
network not unlike the one now proposed by the FCC might be the result, but with
potentially wider participation and acceptance. Such a network might be
administered by the Office of Emergency Communications, not through FCC
Another possibility is that DHS might cede responsibilities and requirements
stated in P.L. 109-295 for developing public safety networks to the FCC. This could
diminish the scope of the new Office of Emergency Communications. In that
scenario, DHS might focus on continuing its policy of assisting cities and other areas
in setting up gateways, adding access to the 700MHz systems. The advantage of
spectrum efficiency through sharing frequencies at 700 MHz would likely be lost to
public safety users (but not to commercial users).
In the absence of clear authority and direction, many routes are possible. It
remains to be seen whether these routes will be coordinated or whether they will
collide at the crossroads.