In compliance with Congressional mandates as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, FCC commissioners have issued an order clearing the way for local entities to use public safety’s 700 MHz broadband spectrum to deploy a nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband network. The Act establishes the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) to develop this network.

The order terminates waivers previously issued to local entities but allows former licensees to apply for special temporary authority (STA) to build the systems. The FCC approved interoperability showings for the city of Charlotte and Harris County Texas allowing them to launch operations immediately.

While both Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Ajit Pai voted for the order, they expressed strong reservations. All three FCC Democrats voted for the order.

“In the ideal world I would have preferred to allow states and localities to proceed with deploying interoperable public safety systems through the use of waivers,” Pai said. “This approach would have provided public safety officials with more certainty, would have made it less likely that prior infrastructure investments would be stranded, and would have been more likely to yield important short-term public safety benefits. But we must deal with the world as it is rather than how we wish it were. Given my colleagues’ support for an STA framework, I thought that it was important to work with them to improve the item instead of sitting on the sidelines and dissenting.”

McDowell expressed his concern that the FCC should have taken action in March following approval of the spectrum law. “Acting quickly would have allowed the stakeholders a meaningful opportunity to socialize the legislation and its effect -- internally with their management teams, their lenders, and their equipment vendors -- and externally, with local government officials and Commission staff,” he said. “Instead, given the significant passage of time, the Commission has found itself in an untenable position: It can only sweep away all of the waivers, along with the pending requests, and establish a process to obtain a ‘limited’ Special Temporary Authorization only ‘in very few instances’ where the highly subjective criteria set forth in the order are met.” Although the FirstNet “has not yet held a meeting, developed any additional network details or published its highly-anticipated build-out schedule, today’s action renders FirstNet perfectly poised to begin from scratch what everyone agrees will be a time-consuming and formidable task,” McDowell said.

The FCC’s Public Safety Bureau will begin accepting applications for STAs immediately. A link to the order can be found here.