Charlotte, North Carolina, had requested the ruling earlier this year to clarify which government entities -- beyond just first responders and within the "critical infrastructure" category that includes transportation -- would fall under the definition of "public safety services" in Section 337 of the Communications Act.
William Brown, state radio systems manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation and chairman of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Special Committee on Wireless Communications Technology, called the FCC ruling "substantial good news" for state and local transportation departments in an e-mail to fellow committee members. He emphasized how the ruling signifies a departure from the previous and narrower classification for government agencies that could have access to 700 MHz broadband capabilities.
"This may not be groundbreaking, but the FCC clearly rejects any assumption of limited use of 700 MHz broadband to only 'law, fire, and medical,'" Brown wrote. "This order affirms and clears the way for local and regional networks to include transportation assets as primary users of any 700 MHz broadband system. ... The FCC clearly planting transportation into 'public safety services' is welcome and has not always been the case."
The ruling marks the culmination of AASHTO's formal efforts, starting with a policy statement approved in October 2007, to include those in critical infrastructure as authorized users of that particular broadband spectrum.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell expressed support for the ruling in a statement. He noted that "old-style 'command and control' policies would needlessly hamper those who are in the best position to understand and satisfy their individual requirements. Moreover, on a practical level, allowing additional users to access the network will provide these communities with needed revenue for build-out and maintenance. Certainly Congress had these benefits in mind when defining 'public safety services' broadly."
The declaratory ruling from FCC is available at bit.ly/FCC-Ruling.