City fire chief enters bandwidth battle

City fire chief enters bandwidth battle

Correction appended

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to govern the auction of the 700mHZ band of wireless spectrum, the largest band left up for grabs in the U.S. that can be used for digital wireless communication. The sale—which should net the federal government billions—has had businesses, open-access proponents and others in a stir over who should have access to the valuable bandwidth.

Public safety officials, like Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner, have also weighed in. Werner has spoken for a plan that would use private funds to support a nationwide network for safety communications.

Werner, a public safety commentator with the Association of Public Safety Officials International, supports a proposal from Frontline Wireless, founded by ex-FCC chairman Reed Hundt, which would use 22mHZ on the available spectrum for a safety network based on a commercial model.

City Fire Chief Charles Werner wants to make sure there’s enough national bandwidth set aside for public safety, so that during disasters, first responders from different agencies can tune to the same wavelength.

Werner testified before a Senate commerce committee hearing in February: “Public safety agencies lack the spectrum to implement advanced communications features,” including, “broadband data systems, video systems for better capabilities including use of robotics in toxic and hazardous environments, and better monitoring and tracking of both personnel and equipment.”

The public-safety network would aim to solve the issues that rescue officials ran into on September 11, 2001, and in other disasters, when emergency responders could not communicate because of incompatible systems. A new system could provide wireless data access across the country to devices like cell phones and Blackberrys.

“We don’t want the federal government to build any kind of infrastructure, because you’re never going to have the funding to support it,” Werner says. “Government works too slowly, there’s too much bureaucracy.”

Werner’s wish came true July 11, when FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released draft rules, which provide for the 22mHZ of spectrum to be devoted to a public-private safety partnership.

“This turn of events will revolutionize public safety communications as we know it,” Werner says via e-mail.

Correction, July 24, 2007:

In last week’s story on the proposed government auction of bandwith ["City Fire Chief Enters Bandwidth Battle," Government News], the position and role of Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner was misrepresented. Werner is not a public safety commentator with the Association of Public Safety Officials International. Moreover, while there are concepts in the Frontline proposal that Chief Werner supports, such as the creation of a public-private partnership to solve the public safety communications problem, there are elements within the proposal that he feels do not track the needs of public safety. Werner, in fact, did not endorse that proposal, as reported. He does, however, support news reports of proposed rules that would create a public-private partnership offered by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. We regret these unfortunate reporting errors.

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