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FCC to recommend Congress fund public safety network

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it will recommend that Congress devote up to $16 billion to build and operate a national wireless network to be used by police, firefighters and other emergency responders. That money would be used over a decade.

And it will propose a commercial auction of airwaves that had been set aside for a public safety network built with a commercial partner. Those airwaves failed to draw interest so the FCC said it will recommend they be reauctioned. Emergency responders still would have separate 10 megahertz of spectrum for their use and the agency said it would suggest those responders also share access to all bands of spectrum freed up by television broadcasters following last year’s transition form analog to digital broadcasts.

“Our goal is to develop the best short-term and long-term plans for America’s first responders,” said Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman.

He said $6 billion of the funds would be used to build the public safety network and $6 billion to $10 billion would be used to upgrade and operate it.

Genachowski made the announcement in a speech Thursday and the recommendation will be part of a national broadband plan to be presented to Congress next month. He said earlier in the week that he also will propose 500 megahertz of spectrum – largely broadcast airwaves – be used for mobile broadband networks. And by 2020, he will unveil a plan to bring broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second to 100 million homes.

“Public safety must have consistent and prompt access to secure, robust networks of the highest quality and first responders should be equipped with state-of-the-art devices and applications that are 100 percent interoperable and easy to use,” he said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 25, 2010; 5:24 PM ET
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