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Wireless Innovation Fund (Mandatory Account) (+$300 million)

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fire fighter w/walkie talkie

image: copyright John Salkin/Shutterstock


More than 10 years after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center highlighted the inadequacies of our communications networks, the United States still lacks a wireless interoperable network capable of linking public safety organizations and workers. Millions of U.S. first responders and other emergency personnel nationwide currently use a patchwork of incompatible technologies and frequency bands.

The President’s National Wireless Initiative included in the American Jobs Act would create a Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund to help develop cutting-edge technologies for public safety users. Funding for the program would come from auctions of reallocated spectrum licenses.

The overriding objective is to build a broadband system to allow first responders and other public safety personnel anywhere in the nation to send and receive data, voice, and other communications to save lives, prevent casualties, and avert acts of terror.

The technological challenges that stand in the way are significant. The public safety system that is envisioned must cover nearly 95 percent of the U.S. population and 90 percent of the nation’s geographic area. System availability should be 90 percent at the minimum, even under the worst of circumstances. Besides stringent coverage and availability requirements, public safety considerations impose other demanding specifications that greatly exceed the requirements of the commercial market, including mission-critical voice services, enhanced security requirements, unique applications, and specialized testing needs. These requirements will be difficult to achieve and to maintain. Current market forces are insufficient to drive the research and development efforts needed to accomplish the transformation in public safety communication technologies and capabilities.

Proposed NIST Program

NIST will use $300 million in WIN Funds to work with industry and public safety organizations on research and development of new standards, technologies, and applications that advance public safety communications.

In FY 2013, this initiative will establish a competitive grants program designed to award between $70 and $75 million per year from FY 2014 through FY 2016 for related research, development, and demonstration projects.

The new NIST effort will build upon and leverage critical synergies between the many different federal agencies involved in public safety communications, as well public safety practitioners and state and local agencies.

It will also expand the work of the current Department of Commerce’s Public Safety Communications Research program by:

  • expanding the 700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Demonstration Network, where public safety practitioners can access state-of-the-art communications equipment, such as video, mapping, and global positioning technologies, for training and development of advanced public-safety-specific applications; and 
  • helping to identify and incorporate public-safety requirements into national and international broadband standards for voice, data, image, and video communications.

Expected Impacts

Benefits and impacts expected include:

  • eliminating critical technical barriers and compressing the timescale to deliver new cutting-edge public safety communications applications and capabilities based on scientific and technological advances; and
  • increasing the efficiency of U.S. innovation by leveraging private and public-sector resources, improving productivity, and lowering transaction and adoption costs.

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