The United States has yet to find a solution that assures seamless communications among first responders and emergency personnel at the scene of a major disaster. Since September 11, 2001, when communications failures contributed to the tragedies of the day, Congress has passed several laws intended to create a nationwide emergency communications capability. The 111th Congress considered pivotal issues, such as radio frequency spectrum license allocation and funding programs for a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN), without finding a solution that satisfied the expectations of both public safety and commercial network operators. Congressional initiatives to advance public policies for Next Generation 911 services (NG9-1-1) also remained incomplete. The 112th Congress is under renewed pressure to come to a decision about the assignment of a block of radio frequency spectrum licenses referred to as the D Block, and to provide a plan for federal support of broadband networks for emergency communications. The cost of constructing new networks (wireless and wireline) is estimated by experts to be in the tens of billions of dollars over the long term, with similarly large sums needed for maintenance and operation. Identifying money for federal support in the current climate of budget constraints provides a challenge to policy makers. The greater challenge, however, may be to assure that funds are spent effectively toward the national goals that Congress sets. After years of debate, a majority in the public safety community has agreed to implement common technologies using Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled networks and the wireless technology known as Long Term Evolution (LTE) to build the nationwide PSBN. IP-enabled networks are also considered essential to the introduction of NG9-1-1. The adoption of the Internet Protocol for emergency communications represents a significant advance in the technologies available for response and recovery operations. IP-enabled technologies are faster and smarter, capable of analyzing and directing communications as they move through networks. Achieving the transition to a leading-edge, broadband network powered by the next generation of IP technologies requires significant changes in operations and long-standing agency traditions, major investments in infrastructure and radios, and the development of enabling technologies. The need appears increasingly urgent for timely decisions by policy makers on new infrastructure for emergency communications and spectrum allocation for public safety radios. Commercial deployment of wireless networks using LTE standards that might also support public safety use are out-pacing the planning efforts of public safety and government officials. Additionally, a number of projects that received Broadband Technology Opportunities (BTOP) grants are moving forward to build broadband infrastructure that could, if the planning is in place, be used to link wireless networks as well as to upgrade 911 systems. Appropriations for BTOP were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). Failing to leverage BTOP-funded infrastructure is likely to further increase the costs of emergency communications networks, especially to rural communities. Legislation that has been introduced in the 112th Congress to address some of these issues includes the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 28, Rockefeller), the Broadband for Public Safety Act of 2011 (S. 1040, Lieberman), the Broadband for First Responders Act (H.R. 607, King), and the Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization (SPECTRUM) Act (S. 911, Rockefeller, as amended).
Today¿s 911 system is built on an infrastructure of analog technol. that does not support many of the features that should be part of an emerg. response. Efforts to splice newer, digital technol. onto this infrastructure have created points of failure where a call can be dropped or misdirected, sometimes with tragic consequences. This report discusses how modernizing the system to provide service that approaches the expectations of its users will require investments in new technol. that should incorp. Internet Protocol (IP) standards. An IP-enabled emerg. commun. network that supports 911 will facilitate interoperability and system resilience; improve connections between 911 call centers; provide more robust capacity; and offer flexibility in receiving calls.
The availability of radio frequency spectrum is considered essential to developing a modern, interoperable communications network for public safety. Equally critical is building the radio network to use this spectrum. Opinions diverge, however, on such issues as how much spectrum should be made available for the network, who should own it, who should build it, who should operate it, who should be allowed to use it, and how it might be paid for. This report discusses potential paths forward for Congress in regards to modernizing communications. To resolve the debate and move the planning process forward, Congress may decide to pursue oversight or change existing law. Actions proposed to Congress include (1) authorizing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reassign spectrum and (2) changing requirements for the use of spectrum auction proceeds. In particular, legislation in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) might be modified. This law mandated the termination of analog television broadcasting and the release of those channels for other uses, including public safety.
Heightened awareness of the integral role of the nation's wireless communications infrastructure in homeland security is bringing to the fore technical issues about public safety spectrum that have lain fallow for a number of years. This book covers issues concerning technology, the connection between technology standards and spectrum allocation, and the competition for spectrum among many users with diverse needs. The report in particular addresses two key issues that have attracted significant attention and controversy: interoperability and interference. Interoperability questions focus mainly on spectrum needs and compatible technology. Interference problems stem primarily from spectrum allocation decisions and radio-communications engineering that have combined to disrupt some public safety radio transmissions. Originally viewed by most industry stakeholders as separate topics, the two issues have, over time, coalesced into a single concern that questions different aspects of spectrum policy and technology planning.