Friday, May 04, 2012

First responders may soon be connected to others across the nation via broadband network

A bill that will build a nationwide public safety broadband network to link together first responders passed in February, and could fundamentally change the way emergency responders react to emergency situations, especially in rural areas where cell phone service is spotty. C.V. Moore of the (Beckley, W.Va.) Register-Herald reports bill author U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said the capabilities the network will make possible are "jaw-dropping." (Register-Herald photo by F. Brian Ferguson)

The bill provides $7 billion for construction and deployment of the network, and "authorizes the auction of a block of wireless broadband spectrum to pay for it," Moore reports. It would create an entity within the Department of Commerce called First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, that would oversee the program. Rockefeller said the program will likely cost $11 to $12 billion before it's completely implemented.

Rockefeller met with constituents at the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department to answer questions about the bill, and those from rural counties said poor cell phone service in those areas needs to be addressed. The bill is designed to spur cell service in rural places. "Telecommunications companies can co-locate transmitters on the new towers that will be built under the program and use the fiber that will be laid, saving them money. They can also rent some of the bandwidth during non-emergency times," Moore reports. (Read more)

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