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Federal Communications Commission
1919 - M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
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Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).


(WT Docket No. 96-86)

The FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking designed to address the Nation's public safety communications needs into the next century. The Notice makes a range of proposals and seeks comment on a number of issues relating to public safety communications and priority access to wireless communications networks in emergencies.

Congress, in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, committed 24 megahertz of the radio spectrum between 746 MHz and 806 MHz to public safety services (764-776/794-806 MHz), and the remaining 36 megahertz to commercial use. In July, the FCC took an important step toward utilizing this 24 megahertz of spectrum by proposing to reallocate spectrum between 746 MHz and 806 MHz and make it available for public safety and commercial fixed and mobile communications.

The Notice adopted by the FCC today seeks comment on service rules for the 24 megahertz of spectrum made available for public safety communications by the Balanced Budget Act. The goal of the FCC proceeding is to ensure the efficient and effective use of that spectrum to meet the Nation's critical public safety communications needs.

Public Safety

By today's action, the FCC will continue the task of building a framework to improve the Nation's public safety wireless communications. Over the past decade, police, fire, emergency medical, and other public safety providers have been confronted by a number of problems that hinder their ability to fulfill their mission of protecting the public. Frequencies have become congested in many areas. Interoperability -- the ability of different public safety agencies to communicate with each other -- is made difficult by multiple frequency bands and incompatible equipment.

The FCC recognizes that, in order for the public safety community to be well prepared to meet the challenges and demands of the next century, these and related problems must be solved. The FCC therefore proposed a regulatory framework to advance the goals of developing interoperability and efficient public safety networks, and to enable public safety agencies to develop the advanced capabilities, such as data and video communications, that will allow them to fulfill their missions more effectively. Another principal goal of the proceeding is the establishment of policies and incentives that will promote the ability of public safety agencies to afford to take advantage of the latest communications capabilities.

With regard to interoperable communications, public safety agencies commonly operate their own wireless systems, using frequencies, modes, and equipment incompatible with those used by other public safety agencies, with the result that public safety agencies often are unable to communicate with one another by radio. The FCC tentatively concluded that a significant portion of the 24 megahertz should be set aside on a nationwide basis for interoperable communications. The FCC also sought comment on service rules and operational standards for this spectrum, with the goal of achieving seamless, nationwide communications interoperability among Federal, State, and local public safety agencies.

Another key to efficient spectrum use is accommodating local, State, and regional needs in connection with the use of spectrum for general service public safety communications. The effectiveness of public safety agencies is tied to their ability to communicate. Due to their special obligations, public safety agencies often have unique communications needs. The FCC proposed service rules that are designed to meet these unique communications needs.

With respect to this general use public safety spectrum, the FCC tentatively concluded that one component of the framework for efficient spectrum use should be reliance on regional planning committees for the development of plans to utilize available frequencies in ways that best meet the needs of public safety agencies in the respective regions. The FCC believes that the communications framework established in this proceeding should call for the regional planning committees to design plans to assist the FCC in assigning licenses to suit regional needs.

Priority Access Service

The Notice adopted today also begins an examination of priority access service on commercial wireless systems for personnel carrying out national security and emergency preparedness functions, and for other public safety entities responding to emergency and disaster situations. The FCC sought comment on the possibility of enhancing national security and emergency preparedness (NSEP) functions by authorizing commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) providers to offer services which would provide NSEP and other safety and rescue personnel with priority access to available wireless channels in periods of high traffic congestion during emergencies.

The FCC sought comment regarding whether the public interest would be served by authorizing commercial wireless carriers to offer priority access service on a voluntary basis, based upon evaluations of whether the service could become an important tool in meeting critical and demanding communications needs during emergencies. The FCC proposed that commercial wireless carriers who elect to provide priority access for emergency purposes to public safety personnel would qualify for a limitation of liability under Section 202 of the Communications Act. Qualifying carriers would be presumed to comply with the non-discrimination requirements of that Section.

The FCC noted that other related technical and implementation issues need to be examined in greater detail before further rulemaking proposals can be made. The Notice is intended to take the first step in the FCC's examination of how to design and implement a wireless priority access system.

Interference Protection

Finally, the FCC proposed technical requirements to protect against interference in- cumbent broadcast licensees operating in the 746-806 MHz band (TV Channels 60-69) and planned digital television operations, during the digital television (DTV) transition period.

Action by the Commission October 9, 1997, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 97-373). Chairman Hundt, Commissioners Quello, Ness, and Chong.


News Media contact: Audrey Spivack at (202) 418-0654

Wireless Telecommunications Bureau contacts: Marty Liebman, Mary Woytek, Ed Jacobs, David Siehl, and Jon Reel, Policy Division, at (202) 418-1310