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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
May 11 , 2007
(202) 289-8928
Public Safety Comm.: Time for a New Approach
PFF Releases Transcript of March Public Safety Spectrum Event

WASHINGTON D.C. - Recent disasters have highlighted problems with first-responder communication. Various proposals suggest adapting communications policy and spectrum policy to address this problem, ranging from public/private partnerships to allocating a larger portion of spectrum to public safety. These proposals were discussed at a March Congressional Seminar hosted by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. PFF is releasing a transcript of the event, "Public Safety Communications: Time for a New Approach," to provide policymakers with a complete overview of policy options.

During the panel discussion, Michael Calabrese, Vice President and Director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation, identified four faulty assumptions about public safety communications that must be reversed in order to meaningfully reform spectrum policy. First, that public safety requires exclusive spectrum and proprietary equipment. Second, that commercial and existing wireless networks should not be used for public safety purposes. Third, that local jurisdictions should not be subjected to national standardization. Finally, that policies should still focus on narrowband voice applications. He also suggested, "the most important reform would push public safety to share spectrum and multi-purpose broadband networks with both commercial and public WiFi networks."

Jeffrey Eisenach, Chairman of Criterion Economics, expressed concern that new public safety spectrum proposals could derail the carefully negotiated digital television transition, which will free up spectrum for public safety and other purposes. Eisenach also took issue with social policies, such as commercial buildout requirements, contained in some new public safety communications proposals. "If we're going to impose encumbrances in that spectrum, it ought to be focused on public safety, not on industrial policy and a... social agenda, which really doesn't have any place in this debate," he explained.

Michael Gallagher, Partner at Perkins Coie, LLP, reviewed current government action in the public safety space, including the roles of the Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security. Gallagher also stressed the importance of interoperability for first responder communications. He explained that "new networks must be regional, digital, interoperable networks. They can no longer be so independent, certainly they shouldn't be analog," he continued. "We have to be moving into an environment where these are shared architectures."

Steven Jones, Executive Director of the First Response Coalition, described a new study issued by his organization which examined state level interoperability efforts. Jones stated that the report, "arrived at the following conclusions: One, funding remains the major hurdle to achieving interoperability. Two, first responder communications systems are being created and upgraded with new technologies without large spectrum allocations. And three, there is a distinct need for adherence to technical standards to better insure equipment deployed across jurisdictions in compatible."

Janice Obuchowski, Chairman of Frontline Wireless, discussed Frontline’s FCC proposal that would allocate 12 megahertz of spectrum for public safety with the option of pre-empting commercially used spectrum. "I, in fact, think what the FCC has advanced, what many people in this room are advancing, is something approaching a going forward vision that we... build a network, a nationwide network that public safety can use and that innovators can use on fair and equal terms."

Charles Werner, EFO/CFO and Fire Chief of the Charlottesville Fire Department, voiced support for a "public safety broadband trust" and argued against confining use of the newly released spectrum to new technologies. Werner explained, "While all of you say that none of the spectrum should be given to old technology, I can tell you there are departments today that need spectrum, because of congestion on what they have, especially in the metropolitan cities. This restriction in place would tie our hands to be able to solve the problems that we need to solve today."

Initial panel remarks and moderator questions were followed by a spirited debate among panelists and audience members. Complete statements from the panelists and questions from attendees can be found in the event transcript.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation