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Bargain price spectrum: nationwide emergency responder network remains in limbo.

The Federal Communications Commission has slashed the price for the D-block, a piece of 700 MHz spectrum set aside for emergency responders. D-Block is a chunk of the 700 MHz spectrum that analog television will no longer be using by next February.

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In September, the minimum bid was cut from $1.3 billion to $750 million.

If no single entity bids on the D-Block, new rules propose dividing the piece of spectrum into 58 different regions.

The FCC's plans are to have a private company build an emergency network that will ensure that police, firefighters and other first responders can communicate. The lack of interoperable communication devices among agencies became apparent during 9/11 and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The company would then sell its system to emergency service providers.

The public safety community had clamored for spectrum to call its own for years, but when the time came for the private sector to bid for the D-block, there was only one bid, which the FCC deemed as too low.

There is a range of options for such a network. Possibilities include a multi-band, multi-mode portable radio that is being tested by the office of interoperability and compatibility, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. There is also the P25 program, which is focused on developing standards that allow radios to interoperate regardless of the manufacturer. The office is also looking at Voice Over Internet Protocol, which is an Internet telephone for a PC, MAC or laptop. FCC officials said they would like to build a national system.

But some are wary of such an endeavor. Charles Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City Police Department, speaking at a September House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, said that many major cities in the United States do not support the auctioning off of the block to a commercial wireless service. There is no assurance that a wireless network operator can build a nationwide network that will meet public safety coverage and survivability standards, he said.

Some rural areas do not see the need for a national network. "Big cities have big fires and big emergencies all the time, where you've got to bring in five different fire departments and maybe a couple of different police stations," said Carl Kutsche, manager of the wireless communications department at the Idaho National Laboratory. "But a local municipality, where you're talking about one or two firehouses and three or four sheriffs cars, these guys have made it work for 200 years with whatever they have on hand."

There is also a strong local control element and the local sheriff does not want to loose his grip on the situation, he said.

"We have to set the system up not to totally take control," he said. "What we have to do is set the system up to provide the communications and controls that might have been knocked out by a large disaster."

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Title Annotation:SECURITY BEAT: HOMELAND DEFENSE BRIEFS
Comment:Bargain price spectrum: nationwide emergency responder network remains in limbo.(SECURITY BEAT: HOMELAND DEFENSE BRIEFS)
Author:Rusling, Matthew
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:496
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