You are hereMACo in NACo / NACo Committee Reports / Legislative Conference / NACo Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee Report - 2012 Legislative Conference

NACo Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee Report - 2012 Legislative Conference

Posted Date: 
March 16, 2012
Joe Briggs, Cascade County Commissioner

Recently I attended my first NACo conference on your behalf and I would like to thank you for opportunity to serve you in this role.  I am a member of the NACo Telecommunications and Technology Committee Steering Committee and also attended the IT standing Committee, the Essential Technologies Sub Committee and a day long Technology Symposium.

Each of these sessions was both interesting and informative. I could spend a good deal of time reviewing each session, however, I realize that not everyone shares my passion for technology so I will focus on two key elements of the discussions.

This topic cut across all of the meetings due to its importance to all counties and our citizens.  Basically, when we talk about spectrum we are referring to a range of frequencies that are used by TV stations, Radio Stations, remote control toys, garage door openers, cell phones, short wave radio, CB radio, public safety radio, county radios, state radios, GPS receivers, wireless Internet and many more devices. There is a limited amount of spectrum and the use of handheld internet devices and cell phones is rapidly exceeding the parts of the spectrum that has been allocated to this use.  If we want more high speed wireless broadband access, a greater share of the spectrum must be allocated to this purpose.  This means someone else needs to give up some of their allocation.

This process has been ongoing for some time but most Americans were unaware of it until their TV station was required to go from an analog signal to digital.  The use of digital signal processing allows for more data to be transmitted on a given frequency and also reduces the size of the buffer required on each side of an active frequency.  In other words, it is more efficient.  

As we all know, our public safety radio system is undergoing a similar shift away from analog to a narrow band digital system for the same reason.  These changes are all a part of the efforts of the FCC to reallocate the available spectrum in a more efficient manner to make room for new and expanding uses such as wireless broadband.  Once a frequency is cleared of existing uses and reallocated for a new use, the FCC auctions the frequencies out to the highest bidder.  In the past, these auctions have provided funding for the Federal Grants that we have received to purchase the new digital public radio equipment, Internet build out in some rural areas as well other general government functions.  

NACo has been pushing for several years for one set of frequencies known as the “D-block” to be reallocated for public safety rather than it to be auctioned off.  This reallocation would effectively double the spectrum allocated for Public Safety and would allow the creation of a nationwide Wireless Broadband system specifically for public safety.  

Recently, a bipartisan effort succeeded in addressing this issue by including reallocation of D-Block language in the unemployment benefits and payroll tax cut extension legislation. This bill also allocates seven Billion dollars to fund the development and build out of the Public Safety Broadband system as well as setting rules for the auctioning of additional spectrum for commercial wireless broadband use.

The proceeds of the auction will fund the extension of the unemployment benefits, the Public Safety Broadband network as well as 3250 million for next generation 911 development.  Senator Baucus was a key player in the passage of this legislation.

The next step from NACo’s perspective is to engage in the rule making process to make certain that the FCC auction process is open and fair to all commercial vendors. From MACo and other rural state’s perspective, we must also guard against all of the funding for the Public Safety Broadband system being appropriated by our larger urban cousins. It is critical that Montana does not get left out of the equation when wireless broadband resources are being allocated.

This is a great concept but the name is misleading, it is not actually an applications store but it is an online resource for counties that contains information about software applications that are in use by counties throughout the nation.  The idea is to have all NACo counties enter into this database all of the computer applications that they use, both those that they have purchased and those they developed in house.  The more counties that participate, the better the resource will be for all of us.  If for example, you are looking for a  new accounting system for your county, you would be able to access the database and get a listing and description of the various packages that are available as well as contact information for other counties using that software.  Let say that you are using two commercial packages and you need an interface that connects the two applications, rather than developing your own, the NACo Applications Store may be able to provide you with the name a county that has already created the necessary interface.  The burgeoning area of mobile apps is another place where this resource could be of great assistance.  Rather than attempt to develop our own mobile apps to interface with things like our GIS data this resource could lead us to apps that are already available.  For example, how many of you know that there is already an app available called “Montana Parcel App” from GCS Research that uses the GPS location feature of your smart phone and then provides you with parcel and ownership data from the Montana Cadastral system for your current location or any other location in the state?

As the mobile revolution gains strength our need to provide mobile apps to access our systems will grow rapidly.  I for one would prefer to not reinvent the wheel, the NACo Applications Store will be an important tool in all counties sharing applications resources.  The launch date for this new tool will be in September of this year.

Joe Briggs | | (406)454-6810