WASHINGTON-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he would cooperate with Congress if it pursues legislation to increase the supply of public-safety spectrum. Chertoff acknowledged federal, state and local first responders must not only be able to talk with one other during emergencies but also need to share bandwidth-hogging data and video communications.
Chertoff was on hand to release a new report detailing that only a handful of U.S. cities have implemented completely interoperable public-safety communications. “We’re very interested, obviously, in working with Congress, if there’s a proposed piece of legislation, to look at that and evaluate what makes the most sense.”
Chertoff’s input could prove pivotal for some public-safety agencies and Cyren Call Communications Corp. as they work to find lawmakers to sponsor legislation to reallocate half of the auction-bound 60 megahertz of spectrum at 700 MHz for public-safety communications.
The Federal Communications Commission last month proposed to designate half of an already-established 24 megahertz public-safety frequency block for a national broadband license that would serve police, firefighters, medics and others.
$1B in grants up for grabs
The continued lack of full-fledged public-safety interoperability throughout the nation comes even as lawmakers put billions of dollars toward the effort. The Department of Homeland Security has awarded nearly $3 billion in public-safety interoperability grants since 2003.
Meantime, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has yet to begin making public-safety interoperability grants from a separate $1 billion earmark enacted into law last year. Before concluding business for the year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring NTIA to have the $1 billion grant money spent by Sept. 30.
The infusion of billions of federal dollars for interoperability is a boon to public-safety vendors big and small.
The city of Dallas recently signed a contract with CoCo Communications Corp. for interoperable public-safety software. As such, Dallas is poised to become the nation’s first city to have fully interoperable communications among municipal public-safety agencies without replacing existing networks.
The government’s public-safety funding is also potentially good news for Avaya Inc. and other firms offering interoperability solutions.
“Five years after 9/11, there is no technological reason emergency responders should be hindered by interoperability issues. The real gaps in interoperability are caused by aging systems that are unable to connect every possible device to be part of the solution-whether it’s radios, desktop phones, cell phones, PDAs or any other device. Newer technologies enable interoperability among all of these devices over nearly any type of network, and without major system replacements, and provide what would be the best, most advanced possible,” said Guy Clinch, director of government solutions at Avaya.
Avaya worked with the Washington, D.C., Unified Communications Center to implement its interoperability solution. The National Capital Region was one of only six U.S. areas-of the 75 graded by DHS-to receive excellent marks across-the-board by DHS.
Chertoff cautioned against comparing progress of one city or region against one another, explaining each has different challenges.