FCC ’s authority over 9-1-1 must be restored

Posted 7/26/23

Effective communication is essential to public safety, specifically for firefighters who run into burning buildings to save those who are trapped inside...

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FCC ’s authority over 9-1-1 must be restored


Effective communication is essential to public safety, specifically for firefighters who run into burning buildings to save those who are trapped inside. Whether it's the victim who dials 9-1-1, the dispatchers who notify the department of an emergency situation or the radios, GPS signal, and cell phones used to communicate among the team, connectivity is vital in all steps of the response process.
Firefighters and other public safety personnel need reliable, consistent access to all these methods of communication including not only devices, but the networks they run on. Without a dependable connection, life-saving efforts will likely be delayed or held up. Any slowdown in our ability to communicate and coordinate in a response scenario puts innocent lives at risk.
First responders must be vigilant, adaptive, and ready to adjust their course at any moment. Firefighters in particular constantly check their equipment for the slightest issue. No defect is too small to impact the team’s effectiveness. This not as obviously, especially includes their access to next generation communication. Every link in a firefighter’s ability to share and receive information must be ready to go, and any hiccups must be mitigated immediately.
Unfortunately, the ability of firefighters to fully leverage wireless networks is in jeopardy. Digital communication relies on spectrum waves to connect devices and power networks.
However, Congress has allowed the authority of the agency in charge of allocating and regulating commercial spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to pause.
This expiration means that the agency is not able to make new bands of licensed spectrum, valuable mid-band intended for commercial use, available. This puts increased demand on currently available networks without increasing the supply of this precious resource. You do not have to be an economist to understand that without recalibrating supply and demand the system gets overwhelmed.
While this lapse in spectrum authority has an impact on consumers for sure, it will also have a devastating effect on public safety personnel who rely on this spectrum to connect and communicate in emergency situations. Next generation 911 networks have the potential to expedite response time and unleash new innovations that will improve public safety. In restoring the FCC’s spectrum authority, Congress should also take the opportunity to establish a vibrant pipeline of spectrum initiatives that will allow these innovations and network improvements to become available.
No firefighter, EMT, or police officer should be worried about the resiliency or capacity of these Internet networks while responding to a call for help. It is important that legislators from both sides of the aisle come together to reestablish this important agency authority so that public safety can leverage all technologies at our disposal to help those in need. We cannot accept short term or long-term effects that will jeopardize the health safety of consumers across Washington.

 Tim Manly is fire chief and paramedic for the Brinnon Fire Department, and chair of the Jefferson County Fire Chief's Association.