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Boston displays need for upgrade in communication

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in New England came together to corner the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

But it was not easy, and the communication challenges that surfaced during the five-day investigation show the great need for a dedicated national public safety broadband network. Most of the police agencies had to depend on commercial wireless carriers, which experienced huge public demand and crashes in the wake of the bombing.

First responders were able to maintain consistent voice contact through their radio systems that were greatly improved after 9/11, according to a report by Stateline News Service. But they encountered problems sharing large data files, such as the video that eventually helped identify the Tsarnaev brothers.

The good news is that Congress last year approved $7 billion to design and build a secure network and reallocated 20 megahertz of spectrum airwave capacity to support it. The bad news is that the FirstNet system is still on the drawing boards and could take years and a lot more money to develop.

The plan calls for a huge network that would serve 60,000 federal, state and local public safety agencies. It would be designed and built by the independent FirstNet Authority, and state and local agencies would pay for operations and maintenance.

Understandably, there are big challenges in providing the capacity, reliability and security required at a price the agencies can afford.

But officials in Boston stress the need is urgent, and FirstNet should move ahead as quickly as possible.

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