Chief Jeff Johnson, International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President 2009-2010, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in support of S. 3756, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.
This legislation was introduced by the committee’s chairman, Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller, IV (D-WV). The bill would allocate the 10 MHz of the “D Block” in the 700 MHz band to public safety to develop a nationwide, public safety wireless broadband network using 20 MHz. The bill also would provide a mechanism to fund the construction, operation, and maintenance of the broadband system.
In his testimony, Chief Johnson described key elements that are needed for a successful network:
- The network must have sufficient capacity. To achieve a nationwide public safety broadband network, Chief Johnson urged Congress to allocate the 10 MHz of the D Block — which is currently slated for auction by the Federal Communications Commission — to public safety. The D Block could then be combined with the adjacent 10 MHz that already is licensed to public safety to create a resilient 20 MHz system.
- Public safety must control the network. Chief Johnson explained the importance of making sure that a single public safety licensee using a single technology operating on a network with sufficient capacity is required to handle day-today operations as well as the capability to manage major incidents. Network control by public safety will give first responders the assurance that they will have full pre-emptive priority over all of the spectrum when it is needed.
- The network must be mission critical at the outset. Chief Johnson said that the public safety broadband network must be hardened to public safety’s requirements and have back-up capabilities in the event of network loss. He also recommended that a future voice component of the network have “talkaround” (or “simplex”) capability and be able to broadcast and receive without the network infrastructure being operative.
- Funding is important for the build-out of a public safety broadband network. Chief Johnson praised the provisions in S. 3756, which would create separate funds for the construction, and maintenance and operation of the new system. These funds would be authorized to a maximum of $11 billion.
Chief Johnson concluded his testimony by reminding Congress that “[w]e are more than nine years since the dreadful events of 9-11, thus we urgently need to move forward on a plan to develop the envisioned public safety broadband communication network.”