Open Spectrum for Emergency Responders

A proposal for an internet-style emergency response system by former FCC commissioner Reed Hundt and long time internet visionary and gadfly Carl Malamud:

The United States should allocate a part of our spectrum to emergency responders. While there is a huge debate in Washington about how to divvy up the spectrum among the many competing uses, in this case there is no reason for any debate. Congress can authorize the FCC to dedicate a chunk of spectrum to an emergency response system….


After allocating spectrum, the government should specify the access mechanism. There is nothing to invent here: something like WiFi and the Internet is the obvious solution. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the government should simply ask the standards bodies that define specifications for WiFi and the Internet to specify which of their existing standards need to be used. The important point is that any standards used should be free from any patent, or licensing considerations that would hinder open source development efforts.

What could you do with this spectrum? A look in any PC magazine or at the thousands of blogs devoted to hardware shows that a lot of what you want out of an emergency response system already exists in the wild on the Internet. Indeed, when the city of New Orleans needed to restablish communication with the outside world, a PC and an Internet phone call were the Mayor’s only communications link….

In Washington, it’s never that easy. But the point is a good one. IP-based systems are robust and fail-safe (and they are going to take over our telephony infrastructure anyway, if I had to place a bet.) I’m not sure, though, that WiFi is the right model — in a real emergency, you might need something with some longer range. But if we’re talking IP, you’re not bound to any particular transport layer.