In a major victory for municipalities and first responders across the country, the recently passed and enacted payroll tax cut compromise also includes the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.
This means that when fully implemented, public safety will have a reliable communications network that will allow first responders to share video, pictures, and data in real time and police and fire services from other jurisdictions and states will be able to have their communications equipment seamlessly linked into local systems when responding to major emergencies and national crises.
While the measure is still being analyzed, here are some of the known details as reported by staff for the National League of Cities:
• Sufficient dedicated spectrum for public safety. The bill will reallocate the 700 MHz D Block of spectrum to public safety, and retains nationwide “narrowband” 700 MHz spectrum currently used for land mobile radio (LMR) communication.
• $7 billion in funds for build out and operate the nationwide network. While there is a requirement of a non-federal match of at least 20 percent, it may be waived if in “the public interest.”
• Funding for Next Generation 9-1-1. NG9-1-1 will allow citizens to send texts, pictures, and video to 9-1-1 call centers, who will in turn be able to share vital information with our first responders.
As a result of gaining this significant benefit for cities and towns, public safety utilizing the “T-Band” (470-512 MHz) will be required to transition off of it over the next 9-11 years. For many localities, this will mean changing how public safety communications are handled. To assist localities, the legislation authorizes funding to assist affected state and local governments in relocating from the T-Band.
The bill may also impact some local authority. Under the bill state and local governments must approve any requests for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of that tower or base station that involves collocation of new transmission equipment, removal of transmission equipment, or replacement of that transmission equipment. Historic preservation and environmental requirements will still have to be met, though.
The network will be overseen by a national governance committee consisting of state, local, and tribal representatives, as well as public safety officials, from across the nation. While individual states will have an option to opt out of the national network construction and conduct their own deployment, their plan to do so would need to be approved by the national governance body, meeting certain requirements of interoperability and perhaps other benchmarks.
While challenges will be lie ahead, it appears that Congress has taken the big step in the right direction on behalf of communities.
Arnold Weinfeld is Director of Strategic Initiatives and Federal Affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 or by e-mail.