Broadband, Public Safety and Homeland Security

On August 25, the Federal Communications Commission held a National Broadband Plan workshop covering public safety and homeland security. Split into two panels, the first part of the discussion examined how the National Broadband Plan should reflect the current and potential uses of broadband to improve public safety communications and operations, including the utilization of the Internet and web-based applications. On the FCC's agenda is how best to promote interoperable, wireless-based communications; the relationship between the broadband plan and the FCC's ongoing 700 MHz spectrum auction proceeding; what services are most needed; how to ensure physical diversity and redundancy, and improve hardening of network assets; and how can existing spectrum allocations(e.g.4.9 GHz) meet the needs of public safety. In addition, the FCC hopes to estimate costs for public safety to obtain broadband service, applications, or devices; what funding sources are available; which broadband networks are used for mission-critical communications; what models (e.g.statewide networks) have been successful and what are their limitations; what policies would best promote Next Gen 9-1-1, cybersecurity, pandemic preparedness; and how the FCC can coordinate with other federal agencies, state, local and tribal entities.

Wordle created from this workshop's transcript:

The purpose of the workshop, in part, is to fill holes in the present record. The FCC believes comments filed earlier this summer are too focused on aspirational goals and not enough on ways of getting there. The FCC says it still needs:

  • More and better data about both current and future broadband needs
  • Concrete plans and benchmarks on how to improve interoperability
  • Analysis of the spectrum allocations necessary to support both current and future broadband services
  • Data on the costs of deployment and other costs
  • What applications are most needed?
  • What are the requirements of public safety for their communications networks?

Charles Brennan -- Deputy Secretary, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of Public Safety Radio Service -- offered the FCC the following recommendations:

  • Concentration on wireless broadband to the first responder vehicles in those instances when it is most needed
  • Ability to create broadband 'hot spots'for situational needs rather than ubiquitous broadband availability
  • Commercial carriers costs may put broadband out of reach for rural first responders
  • When viable, state networks can be used to complement broadband service providers or offer services directly to publicsafety users
  • Grant monies should be focused at state level rather than local level to assist in providing broadband services to public safety
  • Block grants based upon objective criteria rather than competitive grants
  • Development of both applications and equipment necessary to take advantage of public safety broadband requirements
  • Greater focus on the benefits of data interoperability

Qualcomm's Stephen Carter spoke to the virtues of third generation (3G) wireless technologies which he argued supports the entire range of Internet services needed for public safety applications. Questioned by FCC, however, Carter was hard-pressed to cite examples of commercial providers serving public safety personal and admitted that even in local areas where it is happening, it is not a model for the nation. He also touted soon-expected long term evolution (LTE) services which he said boosts data capacity by leveraging new spectrum. His recommendations to the FCC:

  • Focus on Policy and Operational issues
    • Commercial 3G/4G standards have the underlying technology you need
    • Use of open IP standards will allow Public Safety unique applications to be built on top of the underlying commercial technology rather than requiring modifying it
  • Mission critical usage can be supported with appropriate build-out and equipment choices
  • Decisions on VoIPand interoperability with legacy systems can be deferred
    • Commercial industry is first deploying LTE for data -VoIPis being addedshortly thereafter
    • Public Safety can follow same model -start with data, and follow withother services as needs dictate

Pete Eggimann -- Director of 9-1-1 Services, Metropolitan Emergency Services Board, Minneapolis / St. Paul Metro Area -- spoke about creating a next generation 911 service wide area network. The WAN uses wireless and fiber to create two redundant paths.

Ralph Haller, the chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, gave a presentation on the requirements of a national public safety wireless broadband network using 700MHz spectrum. He explored operational, technical and governance issues. He offered a number of suggestions for both Congressional and FCC actions.

Glenn Katz spoke about satellite services. Katz runs Spacenet, which designs, develops, and provides services for satellite, wireline and wireless broadband access solutions. He said that satellite enables high performance networking virtually anywhere with a view of the Southern sky. His recommendations:

1) Public Safety Agencies have a recognized need for continuity of operations planning (COOP) solutions, but can't attain the funding through the normal budget process

  • Dedicated government grants for satellite COOP programs
  • Create efficiencies by coordinating the acquisition of telecom equipment and services at the state level by combining a varietyof requirements, e.g. Emergency, public safety, schools, libraries etc.

2) Many state and local governments have implemented terrestrial based COOP solutions that are susceptible to the same vulnerabilities as their primary network

  • Mandate appropriate public safety agencies have a COOP plan independent of terrestrial infrastructure

Harlin McEwen represented the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, a non-profit selected by the FCC as the Public Safety Broadband Licensee for the 10 MHz of 700 MHz public safety nationwide broadband spectrum. He said that, today, traditional land mobile voice and basic data service to support critical information transfer is a fundamental requirement for the public safety mission. But, as the public safety mission expands, high speed wireline and wireless data networks are becoming more essential to support bandwidth intensive data, video and multimedia that will include VoIP services to augment and backup traditional land mobile mission critical voice systems.

McEwen testified that the public safety goal is to have access to a seamless nationwide broadband system that includes last mile reliable wireless broadband service as envisioned in the currently proposed 700 MHz Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network. He said the wireless broadband network should include:

  • Broadband data services (such as text messaging, photos, diagrams, and streaming video) not currently available in existing narrowband public safety land mobile systems that will support next generation 9-1-1 and public safety services.
  • A hardened public safety network with infrastructure built to withstand local natural hazards (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc) that would include strengthened towers and backup power with fuel supplies to withstand long term outages of public power sources.
  • Nationwide roaming and interoperability for local, state, and federal public safety agencies (police, fire and EMS) and other emergency services such as transportation, health care, and utilities.
  • Access to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) similar to current commercial cellular services.
  • Push-to-talk, one to one and one to many radio capability that would provide a back-up to (but not replace) traditional public safety land mobile mission critical voice systems.
  • Access to satellite services to provide reliable nationwide communications where terrestrial services either do not exist or are temporarily out of service.

Seattle's Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, said America's networks lack sufficient bandwidth and he argued that the national goal should be fiber optic delivered to every home and business -- coupled with widespread private and public safety 4th generation wireless broadband.

Laurie Flaherty, from the Office of Emergency Medical Services at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pressed the panel to identify the data needs of first responders. Ralph Haller said that we may not really know until the bandwidth is there for the community to take advantage of it. He said he's not sure there's a consensus list of the top 25 needs and even if there were it would be ever evolving. Harlin McEwen said that the emergency response community does have a good sense and that the applications piece is evolving. Without bandwidth, however, he said, it doesn't matter. Bill Schrier talked about how whenever a Seattle patrol cars make a stop, a digital recording is made of the interaction. He asked the policymakers to consider what it could mean if the dispatcher or, better yet, a sergeant could witness the interaction, too. He defined the data needs as 6MHz/sec x2: uncompressed, high definition, digital video so a patrolman and the control center can see what eachother are seeing.

Charles Brennan said most of what's needed today is low bandwidth and when unserved responders first get access, they love it. But he said the future will be defined as the ability of a patrolman to make a positive ID of anyone pulled over. He said that will take the ability to remotely transmit fingerprints for matches.

FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Deputy Chief John Leibovitz asked what the biggest obstacle is today. Answers varied from interoperability and aggregation of demand, to backhaul connects to command centers, to funding, to figuring out how people from various agencies actually talk together once connected.

Leibovitz also asked who will actually use the network. The first answer was first responders and peripheral players like utility companies. A second answer identified 911 centers, command centers and then first responders in the field. But Bill Schrier insisted that the network must be built with the intent to connect citizens to their public safety agencies.

The second panel focused on how to use broadband technologies to prepare for, respond to and recover from major natural disasters, pandemics, acts of terrorism, and cyber attacks. The panel consisted of:

Andrew L. Afflerbach, Ph.D.; P.E.; Chief Executive Officer; Director of Engineering; Columbia Telecommunications Corporation—(CTC) [Representing National Assn of Telecommunications Officers &Advisors—NATOA]

Emmanuel Hooper, Ph.D., Senior Scholar and Researcher; Harvard University, Leadership for Network World; Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyber Scholar; Founder, Global Information Intelligence

Murad Raheem, Branch Chief, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response; Information Technology, Electronics & Communications

Marc Sachs, Executive Director, National Security and Cyber Policy, Office of Federal Government Relations, Verizon Government Affairs

Steve Souder, Director, Fairfax (Virginia) Department of Public Safety Communication

Afflerbach raised the concern of many cities and counties losing their core fiber infrastructure, paid for by these governments, due to preemption of local franchising agreements. He said market prices of services are 10 to 20 times what is currently paid and could mean millions more in expenses for these governments. Moreover, substituting off-the-shelf carrier-provided "managed services" reduces effectiveness of public safety communications because of security, scalability, capacity and flexibility.

Hooper spoke about cybersecurity. He said the National Broadband Plan should include:

  • Strategic on-going research on the wider impact of broadband distribution and cyber security as follows:
    • Ensure responsible broadband use, distribution and management is monitoring astute interceptions of high-speed traffic at various segments of the broadband infrastructures that interface with US cyber and global networks that transmit high-speed data in real time.
    • Identify legitimate traffic, understand the levels of appropriate thresholds for traffic on broadband networks, and ensuring effective cryptographic key management, ciphers and algorithms are adaptable to handle astute interceptions, evasions and insertions.
  • Strategic on-going research on the wider impact of broadband distribution and cyber security as follows:
  • FCC coordination with other federal agencies and state and local governments
    • Coordinated research and intelligence on broadband and cyber security for the FCC, Cyber Coordination Executive, National Cyber Study Group (NCSG), Director of National Intelligence (DNI),FCC regulations,DHS, DNI, DOD,DARPA, IARPA, DHSARPA, etc.
  • Interoperability between state and local public safety entities and federal government agencies involved in these large-scale event
    • Development of Effective Management Standards
    • Research, Development of Distributed Broadband Networks
    • Strategic Intelligent Hybrid Data Mining for Broadband Network Security

Raheem raised a number of questions:

  • How do we ensure sufficient reliability and redundancy of broadband communications infrastructure to protect against large-scale events capable of causing extensive physical damage or destruction?
    • Providing portable/mobile solutions to bring the service to the folks that need it
  • Electronic Medical Records such as prescription information and patient tracking
  • How can the feds help?
    • Help with funding via grants
    • Help to create national standards such as Project Connect from the National Coordinator for Health IT.

By Kevin Taglang.