The FCC's Vision for Public Safety Networks

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The Federal Communications Commission is recommending a national interoperable wireless network for public safety as part of its sweeping national broadband plan. The initiative articulates the objectives of many federal, state and local agencies, although execution of the plan, its cost and funding sources, remain uncertain.

JuliusGenachowski_lrg.jpgThe FCC released the 360-page National Broadband Plan in March. It reportedly reflects the vision of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured) for the direction of telecommunications, broadband and the Internet--and the FCC's regulatory role--going forward.

Among the document's 200 recommendations are 17 outlined in a chapter of the plan devoted to public safety.  In addition to the discussion of a new national public safety network, the chapter addresses cybersecurity, the protection of broadband infrastructure and the deployment of next-generation 911 systems.

It is the national public safety network that garners most of the space in the chapter. The creation of a common wireless network that multiple agencies could use in an emergency has been a goal since 9/11.


Another aspect that security professionals might welcome is that the plan recognizes that the network would need to accommodate more than voice communications. The plan presents a chart (click on image below) that identifies transmission of surveillance video, vehicle tracking, intelligence gathering, traffic management, real-time command and control, real-time identity management and credentialing as applications that the national network should support.

PublicSafetyAppsFCC.jpg

The plan proposes apportioning a portion of the 700 MHz band for the network, in particular the D-block (758-763 and 788-793 MHz), which is pending auction to commercial wireless service providers. The plan seeks to encourage--and possibly require--wireless broadband service providers who win D-block licenses to lease portions of their spectrum to public safety agencies for the purposes of supporting the national public safety network.

For management and administration, the FCC recommends creation of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure that these applications, devices and networks all work together, so that first responders nationwide can communicate with one another seamlessly.

"In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should undertake a survey to track progress on broadband interoperability for the public safety community. ERIC will set the course for interoperability immediately and ensure it is maintained. Focusing on interoperability from the beginning should help the public safety broadband network to overcome the difficulties faced by other earlier voice efforts," the plan reads.

To further ensure interoperability and compatibility, the FCC also says it will require D-block winners to ensure commercial handset devices and public safety equipment use the same air interface, for which the commission recommends the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard, a so-called fourth generation (4G) standard developed by the wireless industry. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two largest U.S. wireless service providers, have committed to LTE, which has theoretical download and upload speeds of 100 and 50 megabits per second, respectively. Commercially, LTE has been rolled out in Oslo and Stockholm.

The FCC estimates that capital expenditures will reach between $12 billion and $16 billion over the next ten years. The EPIC center would cost $6.5 billion over the same period. The FCC also proposes a grant program that will fund infrastructure deployment in rural areas as well as urban settings where wireless signal coverage is weak, such an inside tall office buildings. It proposes funding these programs through fees on broadband service and through a revamped federal universal service fund that would be focused on broadband networks and applications.

Controversy

Although the recommendations for public safety portion of the broadband plan is not as controversial as proposals in other sections, the plan itself has drawn fire for its immense scope. In essence, the document is a blueprint for an extension of FCC regulatory powers into the broadband business sector, an area left largely unregulated through both the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The plan also touches almost every part of the broadband value chain, and suggests the FCC should have an oversight role not only for the carrier segment, but for equipment manufacturers, applications developers and content providers as well. Not only has the plan drawn political fire, a number of legal analysts have questioned whether the FCC can enact many of its recommendations without additional Congressional authority. The Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit recently gave this reading significant weight when it overturned FCC sanctions against Comcast's discriminatory network management practices, finding that the Communications Act, as it stands now, gives the Commission no grounds for regulating broadband services.

Beyond legal questions, the FCC's plan to place more surcharges and fees on broadband services could be a flashpoint. The plan sets out to reform universal service mechanisms by creating a Connect America Fund (CAF) to subsidize broadband deployment in unserved or underserved areas. Over a ten-year period, CAF would replace the current high-cost and low-income funds that today make up the majority of Federal Universal Service Fund (FUSF) subsidies. These funds tend to support narrowband dial-tone service, which consumers are abandoning in greater numbers for wireless and broadband alternatives.

The broadband plan, however, is vague on the services to which CAF charges will apply. Today, FUSF charges apply only to voice telephony, including wireless and VoIP. The Commission suggests CAF fees may be applicable not only to broadband services, such as cable modem and DSL, but to applications, such as online purchases, applications downloads, and so forth. Of particular concern to businesses is whether the FCC will attach CAF fees to hosted services. If so, this could raise the cost of the growing number of cloud-based security applications--virtualized storage, hosted access and hosted video surveillance. Moreover, aside from grants for public safety networks, the FCC sees CAF as a source of funding for many programs: rural broadband infrastructure, inner city broadband inclusion programs, even public broadcasting's transition to the Web.

Either way, any plan to add fees, taxes and surcharges to telecom, broadband and Internet services is likely to see intense pushback from the service provider community, especially wireless. In some areas, the combination of federal, state and municipal taxes and fees already adds 20 to 25 percent more to a bill. Plus, there is some validity to the point that taxing broadband service runs counter to the Broadband Plan's overall stated goal of delivering low-cost broadband.

Who Benefits?

On the other hand, the national public safety network plan is likely to garner support from companies such as Cisco and Motorola and Sprint, all of which have been active in development of technologies that will tie together police, fire and emergency communications. In addition, there is strong support within federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security for an interoperable national network.

Meanwhile, municipalities around the country that have invested in broadband wireless systems, in many cases at a substantial cost, are looking to the federal government for additional funds. A number of cities, including Corpus Christi, Tex. and Tacoma, Wash. have shifted municipal systems that originally were aimed at providing competitive broadband services to public safety applications, including video surveillance networks. One potential problem is that most municipal systems, including the two mentioned above, were built using WiFi or WiMax formats, not the digital cellular formats that are evolving toward FCC-favored LTE.

What remains to be seen is how much of the plan comes to pass and how effective its administration turns out to be.

Nonetheless, wireless in general gets a significant boost from the broadband plan. The FCC recognizes, and practically endorses, the role of wireless in broadband development--and the advantages it offers the security and public safety sectors. This has not been the case in the past.

Have any thoughts or comments on the National Broadband Plan as it pertains to security and public safety. Will it accelerate network and infrastructure development or create uncertainty and slow investment? Is this a legitmate role for the FCC or is it an overreach? Add your comments below.


The Federal Communications Commission is recommending a national interoperable wireless network for public safety as part of its sweeping national broadband plan. The initiative articulates the objectives of many federal, state and local agencies, although execution of the plan, its cost and funding sources, remain uncertain.

JuliusGenachowski_lrg.jpgThe FCC released the 360-page National Broadband Plan in March. It reportedly reflects the vision of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured) for the direction of telecommunications, broadband and the Internet--and the FCC's regulatory role--going forward.

Among the document's 200 recommendations are 17 outlined in a chapter of the plan devoted to public safety.  In addition to the discussion of a new national public safety network, the chapter addresses cybersecurity, the protection of broadband infrastructure and the deployment of next-generation 911 systems.

It is the national public safety network that garners most of the space in the chapter. The creation of a common wireless network that multiple agencies could use in an emergency has been a goal since 9/11.


Another aspect that security professionals might welcome is that the plan recognizes that the network would need to accommodate more than voice communications. The plan presents a chart (click on image below) that identifies transmission of surveillance video, vehicle tracking, intelligence gathering, traffic management, real-time command and control, real-time identity management and credentialing as applications that the national network should support.

PublicSafetyAppsFCC.jpg

The plan proposes apportioning a portion of the 700 MHz band for the network, in particular the D-block (758-763 and 788-793 MHz), which is pending auction to commercial wireless service providers. The plan seeks to encourage--and possibly require--wireless broadband service providers who win D-block licenses to lease portions of their spectrum to public safety agencies for the purposes of supporting the national public safety network.

For management and administration, the FCC recommends creation of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure that these applications, devices and networks all work together, so that first responders nationwide can communicate with one another seamlessly.

"In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should undertake a survey to track progress on broadband interoperability for the public safety community. ERIC will set the course for interoperability immediately and ensure it is maintained. Focusing on interoperability from the beginning should help the public safety broadband network to overcome the difficulties faced by other earlier voice efforts," the plan reads.

To further ensure interoperability and compatibility, the FCC also says it will require D-block winners to ensure commercial handset devices and public safety equipment use the same air interface, for which the commission recommends the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard, a so-called fourth generation (4G) standard developed by the wireless industry. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two largest U.S. wireless service providers, have committed to LTE, which has theoretical download and upload speeds of 100 and 50 megabits per second, respectively. Commercially, LTE has been rolled out in Oslo and Stockholm.

The FCC estimates that capital expenditures will reach between $12 billion and $16 billion over the next ten years. The EPIC center would cost $6.5 billion over the same period. The FCC also proposes a grant program that will fund infrastructure deployment in rural areas as well as urban settings where wireless signal coverage is weak, such an inside tall office buildings. It proposes funding these programs through fees on broadband service and through a revamped federal universal service fund that would be focused on broadband networks and applications.

Controversy

Although the recommendations for public safety portion of the broadband plan is not as controversial as proposals in other sections, the plan itself has drawn fire for its immense scope. In essence, the document is a blueprint for an extension of FCC regulatory powers into the broadband business sector, an area left largely unregulated through both the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The plan also touches almost every part of the broadband value chain, and suggests the FCC should have an oversight role not only for the carrier segment, but for equipment manufacturers, applications developers and content providers as well. Not only has the plan drawn political fire, a number of legal analysts have questioned whether the FCC can enact many of its recommendations without additional Congressional authority. The Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit recently gave this reading significant weight when it overturned FCC sanctions against Comcast's discriminatory network management practices, finding that the Communications Act, as it stands now, gives the Commission no grounds for regulating broadband services.

Beyond legal questions, the FCC's plan to place more surcharges and fees on broadband services could be a flashpoint. The plan sets out to reform universal service mechanisms by creating a Connect America Fund (CAF) to subsidize broadband deployment in unserved or underserved areas. Over a ten-year period, CAF would replace the current high-cost and low-income funds that today make up the majority of Federal Universal Service Fund (FUSF) subsidies. These funds tend to support narrowband dial-tone service, which consumers are abandoning in greater numbers for wireless and broadband alternatives.

The broadband plan, however, is vague on the services to which CAF charges will apply. Today, FUSF charges apply only to voice telephony, including wireless and VoIP. The Commission suggests CAF fees may be applicable not only to broadband services, such as cable modem and DSL, but to applications, such as online purchases, applications downloads, and so forth. Of particular concern to businesses is whether the FCC will attach CAF fees to hosted services. If so, this could raise the cost of the growing number of cloud-based security applications--virtualized storage, hosted access and hosted video surveillance. Moreover, aside from grants for public safety networks, the FCC sees CAF as a source of funding for many programs: rural broadband infrastructure, inner city broadband inclusion programs, even public broadcasting's transition to the Web.

Either way, any plan to add fees, taxes and surcharges to telecom, broadband and Internet services is likely to see intense pushback from the service provider community, especially wireless. In some areas, the combination of federal, state and municipal taxes and fees already adds 20 to 25 percent more to a bill. Plus, there is some validity to the point that taxing broadband service runs counter to the Broadband Plan's overall stated goal of delivering low-cost broadband.

Who Benefits?

On the other hand, the national public safety network plan is likely to garner support from companies such as Cisco and Motorola and Sprint, all of which have been active in development of technologies that will tie together police, fire and emergency communications. In addition, there is strong support within federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security for an interoperable national network.

Meanwhile, municipalities around the country that have invested in broadband wireless systems, in many cases at a substantial cost, are looking to the federal government for additional funds. A number of cities, including Corpus Christi, Tex. and Tacoma, Wash. have shifted municipal systems that originally were aimed at providing competitive broadband services to public safety applications, including video surveillance networks. One potential problem is that most municipal systems, including the two mentioned above, were built using WiFi or WiMax formats, not the digital cellular formats that are evolving toward FCC-favored LTE.

What remains to be seen is how much of the plan comes to pass and how effective its administration turns out to be.

Nonetheless, wireless in general gets a significant boost from the broadband plan. The FCC recognizes, and practically endorses, the role of wireless in broadband development--and the advantages it offers the security and public safety sectors. This has not been the case in the past.

Have any thoughts or comments on the National Broadband Plan as it pertains to security and public safety. Will it accelerate network and infrastructure development or create uncertainty and slow investment? Is this a legitmate role for the FCC or is it an overreach? Add your comments below.


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