2020 has been a year, but perhaps not for all the reasons we had hoped. In addition to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, this year we have experienced an extraordinary number of fires, hurricanes, floods and other extreme disasters. Throughout the pain and hardship these crises have caused, one critically important tool in helping those in need has been a reliable communications network for first responders and emergency personnel working to provide much needed aid. What underlies these critical communications networks? Spectrum.
Historically we’ve seen successful spectrum management in the wake of national crisis. In fact, in the years following the devastating communications failures that occurred during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, policy makers and the communications industry came together to develop a national communications network that would be dedicated to public safety and first responders. The result of this effort has been the establishment of FirstNet, a reliable and dedicated communications network that is managed by the government-backed FirstNet Authority and supported by industry.
Fast forward to 2020, as the pandemic started to soar this year, triage centers and “tent cities” were established in many cities. Healthcare workers and emergency personnel require communication networks and FirstNet has been able to step-in and offer frontline essential workers immediate reliable communications services. COVID-19 has also created a huge surge in demand for broadband services, and FirstNet has been able to ensure ongoing communications for emergency, as well as other healthcare services without over-taxing the entire broadband network. There are numerous other examples of how FirstNet rose to the occasion over the course of 2020, but the important technical component that underlies the wireless network that makes it all possible is the availability and build-out of spectrum.
Spectrum is the heartbeat of the nation’s communications network and it is at the center of FirstNet and a successful 5G network. The complicated system of making spectrum available and then administering it for private entities has been established over the years. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees commercial allocation of spectrum, often by conducting auctions to distribute the valuable spectrum to private wireless companies that then deploy the spectrum frequencies to build the best wireless networks for consumers. It’s a system that can provide an efficient and equitable distribution for spectrum.
Because of its critical importance, any spectrum held, but not used by federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, should be made available and allocated for subsequent consumer use. The best course is to pave the way for a smooth transition of spectrum resources from federal agencies to private license ownership that will lead to building a 5G network for consumers. After all, the ultimate purpose of making more spectrum available is to bring the countless benefits of an advanced wireless network, for public safety and expanded consumer use.
It’s vitally important for the FCC to continue a focus on managing and allocating spectrum to allow private wireless companies to establish the next generation wireless 5G network. Consumers and our brave frontline public safety workers are relying on them to get the work done!