Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Public Safety Communications and Spectrum Resources: Policy Issues for Congress

Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

Effective emergency response is dependent on wireless communications. To minimize communications failures during and after a crisis requires ongoing improvements in emergency communications capacity and capability. The availability of radio frequency spectrum is considered essential to developing a modern, interoperable communications network for public safety. Also critical are (1) building the network to use this spectrum and (2) developing and deploying the radios to the new standards required for mobile broadband. Beyond recognition of these common needs and goals, opinions diverge on such issues as how much spectrum should be made available for the network, who should own it, who should build it, who should operate it, who should be allowed to use it, and how it might be paid for. 

Actions being considered by Congress include (1) authorizing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reassign spectrum and (2) changing requirements for the use of spectrum auction proceeds. In particular, legislation in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) might be modified. This law mandated the termination of analog television broadcasting and the release of those channels for other uses, including public safety. 

Three bills that would increase the amount of radio frequency spectrum assigned for public safety use have been introduced. The bills would require that the FCC transfer a spectrum license intended for commercial use, known as the D Block, to the license-holder for adjacent frequencies already assigned to public safety, known as the Public Safety Broadband License. The Broadband for First Responders Act of 2010 (H.R. 5081, Representative King) deals primarily with reassignment of the D Block. Two Senate bills contain similar provisions for spectrum assignment and would add a number of new provisions, including using the proceeds of future spectrum auctions to fund the needed network (S. 3625, Senator Lieberman and S. 3756, Senator Rockefeller). The development of public safety radios for broadband would be expedited by companion bills H.R. 5907 (Representative Harman) and S. 3731 (Senator Warner). Public safety operations would benefit from this initiative regardless of the eventual assignment of the D Block. Congress may consider additional legislation or oversight to meet desired levels of emergency communications performance. 

Among the actions that Congress might take, those dealing with governance and funding are often cited by public safety officials and others as the areas most in need of its consideration. Many have recommended that, for the proposed network project to go forward on a sustainable footing, funding sources need to be identified for investment and operating expenses over the long term. To ensure the resources are wisely used, some analysts point to the primacy of putting in place a well-grounded but flexible governance structure

Date of Report: August 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R40859
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.