WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission has given the wireless community in general, and the public-safety arena in particular, an extra-long comment period to ponder the agency’s thoughts on the future spectrum and service needs of that mobile communications sector. In addition, the notice proposes to adopt several definitions and scenarios put forth by the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee and by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
In an extensive notice of proposed rulemaking released last week, the commission “initiates an overall evaluation and assessment of public safety wireless communications,” which could include such approaches as “requiring more efficient use of current public safety spectrum, reallocating additional spectrum for public safety uses and facilitating the use of commercial service providers for increased communications capacity.”
The NPRM seeks comment by Sept. 20 on six essential points:
What regulatory approaches could hasten the development of interoperable technologies and equipment?
What features and system requirements are essential to public safety?
What technological issues will enhance and improve the current system?
How should any new spectrum be allocated?
What measures should be taken to promote spectral efficiency in any event?
How can equipment and other service providers compete to fill the future needs of the public-safety community?
Not only is the FCC depending on industry comments to formulate future public-safety policy, it will depend heavily on analysis provided by PSWAC, which is performing its own assessment. “PSWAC will develop specific recommendations for the commission and the NTIA and submit a report later this year,” the notice said. “We anticipate that PSWAC’s findings and conclusions will comprise a significant portion of the record.”
The FCC is prepared so far to adopt PSWAC’s revised, stricter definitions of what constitutes a “public safety provider” or “public safety services,” but it wants industry affirmation. PSWAC also is considering new definitions for the many communications links that facilitate “interoperability.” Several interoperability options are discussed in the text, including the progress of several state tests involving channel pooling and networking, and public-safety partnerships with utility companies.
Because new spectrum probably won’t be granted in most cases, agencies also are asked to consider the possibility of relocating to another frequency band that could accommodate all public-safety equipment and services on a wide-area or a nationwide basis.
Commenters are asked for an evaluation of current digital and narrowband technologies and their impact on spectral efficiencies, whether new antenna designs and trunking methodologies would increase spectrum capacity, whether technical standards should be adopted for transmitters and receivers and whether any technology should be mandated.
The future responsibility of frequency coordinators is up for grabs. The FCC proposes to grant licenses first, with coordination to follow. “We tentatively conclude that this would be an improvement upon our current procedures because the licensing process would be streamlined,” the NPRM says. “Thus, public safety users will receive their authorizations more quickly.” Comments also are solicited regarding the need in the future to coordinate border frequencies with neighboring countries.