FCC sets LTE as standard for public safety network

The agency also asks for public comments about how to build a nationwide network

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has set Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the data standard for a nationwide mobile broadband network for public safety agencies that's been on the table for nearly a decade.

The FCC, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, adopted LTE as the common interface for the network, which will use a portion of the 700MHz spectrum. U.S. lawmakers and FCC members have been calling for a nationwide mobile broadband network for police and fire departments since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The FCC doesn't typically pick technology standards, but in this case it was needed, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "In order to ensure nationwide interoperability for public safety communications there's widespread agreement that a common air interface is desirable and necessary to enable nationwide interoperability," he said.

Many of the police and fire departments responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. couldn't talk to each other because they weren't using the same radio equipment on the same spectrum bands.

FCC members voiced support for the standard and for a further notice of proposed rulemaking focused on building the network. But Commissioners Michael Copps and Robert McDowell both called on the FCC to move forward with the network.

"We are fast approaching the 10-year anniversary of 9/11," Copps said. "More should have been done immediately after 9/11 to address the needs of public safety. 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."

The FCC failed in its first attempt to get a public safety network built. Congress voted in 2005 to clear television stations from the 700MHz band of spectrum in a transition to digital broadcasts. The FCC sold much of that spectrum in auctions completed in early 2008, but a section of spectrum designed for public safety, called the D block, failed to get the minimum bid of US$1.3 billion set by the FCC.

The FCC's plans were for a commercial operator to buy the spectrum and build a nationwide network shared between public safety agencies and commercial uses. Some critics had complained about the conditions the FCC put on the D block auction.

Public safety groups praised the FCC's action. The Public Safety Spectrum Trust, a coalition of public safety groups, commended the FCC for "addressing these important communications needs of public safety," the group said in a statement.

The FCC's further notice of proposed rulemaking, approved Tuesday, seeks public comment on several issues related to the public safety network, including the effectiveness of open standards, security and encryption requirements, and protection from interference.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentmobileregulationtelecommunication3gJulius GenachowskiU.S. Federal Communications CommissionGovernment use of ITRobert McDowellMichael Copps

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