Professor Pitches Emergency Communications Re-Think

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Tech types were scheduled to debate various scenarios for reforming public safety communications and coordination in Washington Thursday, spurred by the reallocation of 24 Mhz worth of spectrum to public safety with the transition to digital TV in February 2009.

In a paper scheduled to be released at the forum, Jon Peha, a professor of electrical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, argues against what he says are the basic assumptions that local flexibility should trump standardization and regional coordination, that commercial media's role is limited, and that public safety spectrum should not be shared.

 Citing changed technology and a changed world after 9/11, he argues responsibility should be shifted from independent local government agencies to the federal government and commercial providers. He also says municipal wifi networks should have an expanded role so that the public safety spectrum can be shared with other users.

He says that the new spectrum, since it is being vacated by legacy TV users, is the ideal place to build a new emergency communications system, rather than manage spectrum according to "the same old policies."

He suggests that funds for the new system could come from the auction of reclaimed analog spectrum, perhaps by saying that any revenues beyond the $10 billion the Government Accountability Office has projected for the treasury be earmarked for public safety--some have predicted the take could be twice that amount or more.

But he also argues that funding should not hinge on what he calls an accounting trick. "Surely in the age of terrorist threats on American soil," he argues, "policy-makers need no such excuses to spend money that will advance homeland security and public safety, especially when the short-term expenditures will lead to long-term savings."

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