Document Type



CommLaw Conspectus: Journal of Communications Law and Policy




In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a unitary reliance on Land Mobile Radio systems (LMRs) failed public safety agencies, leaving them without any source of communications once they lost transmission capability. Unfortunately, in the wake of this tragedy, many have dusted off traditional prescriptions for improving public safety communications, such as more dedicated spectrum and more money for single-purpose LMRs (or LMRs based on technology that fails to facilitate broader functionalities). As we explain, however, both the needs underscored by Katrina and the capabilities made possible by emerging technologies call for a different strategy.

In this paper, we argue that sound policy favors adoption of a next generation flexible architecture strategy for public safety communications. Such a flexible architecture embraces technological convergence and, accordingly, strives to coordinate existing LMRs, commercial terrestrial services, satellite technology, and wireless broadband systems to provide a robust, reliable, secure, and interoperable broadband communications system. Additionally, this approach would take advantage of "multi-mode" radios which are already a reality in most segments of the marketplace (except for public safety). Such multi-mode radios are expected to be even more robust once the recently authorized "ancillary terrestrial component" (ATC) of mobile satellite services becomes an option for public safety agencies.

Notably, the flexible architecture that we advocate does not necessarily require additional spectrum dedicated for public safety agencies nor prohibitive financial investment in the equipment needed to use spectrum effectively. Rather, public safety agencies can leverage networks provided by commercial providers - particularly hybrid satellite and terrestrial systems - to satisfy many public safety needs in a cost-effective fashion. To advance this vision, policymakers should ensure that (1) satellite and terrestrial providers are afforded the opportunity - through pro-market and innovative spectrum policies - to develop effective offerings for public safety agencies; and (2) public safety agencies receive sufficient financial support to promote this type of a hybrid, next generation architecture.