Police Chief Urges Congress to Keep ‘D Block’ Spectrum

Loss of 'space' may let emergency services or interference from commercial transmissions bleed into the emergency spectrum.
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If the U.S. government auctions some of the broadband spectrum between television channels known as “white space,” some of that spectrum has to be reserved to meet the needs of emergency services or interference from commercial transmissions will bleed into the emergency spectrum, a representative of a national public safety group told Government Video.

San Jose, Calif.’s Police Chief Christopher Moore said if the section of the white space broadband spectrum known as the “D Block”—a band of spectrum that first responders would use for an interoperable wireless broadband network located next to airwaves already used by public safety—is auctioned and reallocated to producers of wireless devices, there will be interference issues with the existing 10 MHz that is adjacent to the existing D Block.

The House subcommittee on communications and technology held a hearing on July 15 on the possible auction of government broadband spectrum to commercial users by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at which representatives focused on “discussion” drafts of two potential bills being circulated by both parties in both houses of Congress.

House Democrats Rep. Henry Waxman, Calif., and Anna Eshoo, Calif., began circulating a draft on Capitol Hill about July 12. The Democrats’ document has “a good amount of common ground on spectrum policy” with a bipartisan Senate discussion draft produced by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Waxman. “The Democratic draft builds upon the bipartisan work of the Senate Commerce Committee,” he said.

“Both Democrats and Republicans want to enable the FCC to conduct voluntary incentive auctions that are fair to broadcaster,” Waxman said. “We want the FCC to have sufficient flexibility to make auctions successful, although we have slightly different approaches to providing that flexibility,” said Waxman, who supports reallocation of the D Block for public safety’s use. In addition, the Waxman, Eshoo draft urges establishing “a strong governance structure to manage the highly complex undertaking of building and managing an advanced wireless network.”

However, subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., says while “good spectrum policy can bring interoperable broadband communications to first responders,” he is “skeptical about the idea of creating a large, federal bureaucracy” to manage a D Block network. Such a bureaucracy would duplicate “the systems and expertise already in place,” he said.

Nonetheless, Moore, who testified at the hearing on behalf of the Public Safety Alliance, said after the hearing that the alliance anticipates there will be “capacity” problems if the entire spectrum is reallocated for commercial use. “We will not have the capacity for the 5X5 network; just 10 MHz of spectrum, adjacent to the D Block to do what we need to do today in major markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York,” he said. “We have data traffic that surpasses that already,” he added.

Nationally, first responders will need 20 MHz to meet the growth that is anticipated within ten years. “Just like it’s [spectrum growth] occurring in the private sector over the next ten years, it may very well be that in ten years from now we might be looking for additional spectrum,” Moore said. “We might be able to transition some of the existing spectrum we have for narrow band voice over to broadband if we can get the mission critical level of voice,” he said. “Once we get the technology so that mission critical voice is now carried on broadband, we could perhaps transition that, but that could be more than a decade away.”

However, if a bill passes that contains a provision to maintain the D Block spectrum for first responders—specifically police—those agencies would have the ability to communicate broadband data to and from patrol cars which would include video, from crime and accident scenes, but also e-9-1-1 centers would be able to forward video to patrol cars that is provided to the centers by callers, Moore said. Using video provided by callers, police would be able to “preplan for an event en-route to the call,” he said. “If it was a large event, like say the bombings in London, having the ability to look at your information the appropriate authorities can plan their response much faster in a more efficient way,” he added.