FCC proposes public-safety wireless band

National radio system based on advanced IP broadband technologies proposed for the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to set aside radio frequencies for a nationwide public safety network to be built in partnership with a private company.

On Wednesday, the commission proposed a national radio system for various public safety agencies that would be based on advanced IP (Internet Protocol) broadband technologies. Its idea is to use spectrum already set aside for public safety and set up a public-private partnership to implement the network.

Communication problems following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita focused attention on the patchwork of radio systems used by different public-safety agencies in the U.S. Not being able to communicate can hamper critical coordination among federal and local emergency responders.

Vendors including Cisco Systems and Motorola have developed IP-based wireless systems designed for interoperability among many different devices. The FCC wants to take advantage of this new type of technology, it said in a statement. By looking into a public-private deal, it can tap into new resources to get the network built. The spectrum would be assigned to one national licensee that could offer public-safety agencies voluntary access to a broadband service for a fee.

The common network would use half of a chunk of radio spectrum 24MHz wide that is already allocated to public safety. It is in the 700MHz band, a highly prized set of frequencies that is good for communicating over long distances and penetrating walls.

All five commissioners of the frequently divided commission voiced support for the plan in statements released Wednesday. By issuing its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the agency started a process of seeking outside views on the idea.

"Our proposal today talks in very broad strokes and looks to commenters to fill in many important details and specifics," wrote Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

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