Public safety fee for broadband will be less than $1 a month

FCC official says the fee is 'nominal'

The FCC is moving quickly to implement a $16 billion nationwide wireless network for use by emergency responders that will be paid partly through a fee of less than $1 a month on all U.S. broadband users.

While no exact amount has been determined, an FCC spokesman today said via e-mail that the fee would be "nominal" and less than $1 a month on all broadband users. The National Broadband Plan released yesterday includes no mention of the amount.

Congress must authorize the fee first, although the FCC is moving ahead on the emergency network "in some areas, very soon" with expectations that the network's Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) "could be operational within the next few weeks," the spokesman added via e-mail.

Proceeds of the new fee on all broadband users would be used to support operational costs of the network. Those costs will range from $6 billion to $10 billion over 10 years, the spokesman said. The FCC is expected to seek an additional $6.5 billion from Congress to build out the network, although the FCC National Broadband Plan envisions that state and local governments might bear some of the costs.

Police, fire and other public safety officials have pleaded for an interoperable wireless network to help in their responses to disasters after communications difficulties arose during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and after Hurricane Katrina.

Generally, public safety groups had hoped that Congress would grant a portion of wireless spectrum, known as the D block in the 700 MHz band, for their exclusive use for emergency communications. But the FCC approach calls for auctioning off the D block to the commercial sector, with provisions that those private entities winning in the auction partner with public safety groups to support the new network.

The FCC spokesman said that the agency already has Congressional authority to auction off the D block.

ERIC will help develop technical aspects for the new network, including interoperability, and will work with a new granting authority to distribute funds for building it. A key element of the network is that it will complement commercial networks and resources, the spokesman said.

The National Broadband Plan calls for creating ERIC under the umbrella of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau immediately. The plan also suggested the new network rely upon LTE technology for the network standard.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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