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FCC Creates Shared Wireless Broadband Network

In its Report and Order authorizing the creation of this shared public/private broadband network, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a detailed regulatory structure defining certain requirements for both the Public Safety Broadband Licensee (PSBL) and its commercial partner. The FCC established the ground rules under which the commercial D Block auction winner would receive its license, as well as the rules governing both the PSBL and the D Block auction winner in their negotiation of the Network Sharing Agreement (NSA) that will define the broadband network parameters.

For the most part, the FCC adopted provisions and protections that had been identified by the public safety community as essential for meeting its users' requirements. Those rules reflect the FCC's determination that the network, first and foremost, must serve public safety needs, including priority access and meaningful ruthless pre-emption rights. For example, the FCC conditioned the award of the license for the 10 MHz of contiguous D Block commercial spectrum on the successful execution of an NSA with the PSBL.

The FCC also adopted specific aggressive benchmarks for the D Block licensee to meet in constructing the shared public safety network. The D Block licensee, also known as the commercial network operator, must provide a network that covers 75% of the U.S. population by the end of the fourth year, 95% of the U.S. population by the end of the seventh year, and 99.3% of the U.S. population by the end of the tenth year. These requirements will be measured from a start date of February 17, 2009. Additionally, the FCC requires that a network sharing agreement between the commercial network operator and the public safety licensee specifically address coverage of incorporated communities with a population in excess of 3,000 and of major highways and interstates in the U.S.

In the same Report and Order, the FCC required that the shared network incorporate, among other things, the following:

  • Specifications for a broadband technology platform that provides mobile voice, video, and data capability that is seamlessly interoperable across agencies, jurisdictions, and geographic areas.
  • Sufficient robustness to meet the reliability and performance requirements of public safety. To meet this standard, network specifications must include features such as hardening of transmission facilities and antenna towers to withstand harsh weather and disaster conditions, and backup power sufficient to maintain operations for an extended period of time.
  • Sufficient capacity to meet the needs of public safety, particularly during emergency and disaster situations, so that public safety applications are not degraded.
  • Security and encryption consistent with state-of-the-art technologies.
  • A mechanism for automatic prioritization of public safety communications over commercial uses on a real-time basis and to assign the highest priority to communications involving safety of life and property and homeland security.
  • Operational capabilities consistent with features and requirements specified by the public safety licensee that are typical of current and evolving state-of-the-art public safety networks.
  • Operational control of the network by the public safety licensee to the extent necessary to ensure that public safety requirements are met.
  • The public safety licensee's right to determine and approve the specifications of public safety equipment that is used on the network, and the right to purchase subscriber equipment from any vendor it chooses.
  • The public safety licensee's right to have the D Block licensee make available to it at least one handset that would be suitable for public safety use and includes an integrated satellite solution capable of operating both on the 700 MHz public safety broadband spectrum and on satellite frequencies.

Nonetheless, the FCC also recognized that no partnership could be forged – and no nationwide broadband public safety network deployed - unless there was a compensatory business plan for the D Block winner. This matter between the parties will be addressed in the NSA negotiation process.

Click here to review the FCC's Report & Order on the 700 MHz band.

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