APTS Seeks FCC Help In Joining FirstNet

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America’s Public Television Stations has issues with their exclusion from FirstNet and are now turning to the FCC to state their case. Public broadcasters believe their history of providing communications capacity for emergency providers would make them a natural part of FirstNet, but that’s not been the case, reported Current.

“To leave public television stations … on the sidelines of the FirstNet infrastructure is to ignore a robust, reliable, and ubiquitous partner whose public safety capabilities have proven effective in a variety of critical use cases,” APTS told the Commission.

In 2012, when Congress introduced FirstNet, APTS submitted proposals to include public TV. However, once FirstNet established a public-private partnership with AT&T, it overlooked public TV, according to APTS COO Lonna Thompson. With “no movement” in conversations between APTS and FirstNet, Thompson said participating in the FCC proceeding was the next step. 

APTS argues that its member stations can augment the two-way communications network AT&T is building out by providing one-way data services over spare capacity on their DTV signals. APTS cited the recent wildfires in California as an example where their services could come into play, especially since FirstNet infrastructure was unavailable. “Our towers are big, tall, sturdy towers designed to withstand tornadoes and hurricanes,” Thompson said. “Half the cell towers were down. We can provide a backup, redundant network.” 

Current reported that in 2016, APTS pledged its spectrum, creating a Public Media Public Safety Coordination Center to oversee cooperation with emergency agencies. APTS has conducted pilot projects with the Department of Homeland Security as well. “We’re not in lieu of other systems, and we’re not trying to compete with other systems,” Thompson said. “We really see ourselves as an important part of an ecosystem that could service public-safety first responders to the best of all of our combined abilities.” 

APTS members in Houston have conducted pilot datacasting [back up] programs for years. “If you can leverage something that’s already coming off our tower that can allow everyone in the shadow of that tower to communicate, that to me is absolutely a service to the community,” said Josh Adams, Houston Public Media executive director of operations. 

The FCC is under no obligation to directly respond to APTS’ comments in this proceeding, per Current. As part of its lobbying effort, APTS plans to seek meetings with the agency’s public safety bureau.

December 12, 2019

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