Senate Dems Say Spectrum Agreement Will Improve Safety of First Responders and the Americans They Serve

February 16, 2012

Feature Image 5WASHINGTON, D.C.—Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV and Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today hailed a historic win for America’s first responders and the economy as an agreement in the payroll tax deal will provide them a nationwide, wireless, broadband network and raise billions to pay down the nation’s deficit.  

“Today is monumental for all Americans and our future safety,” Rockefeller said.  “Technology and the way we communicate are rapidly changing every day bringing us closer to one another, keeping us in touch in a way like never before, and ultimately improving most people’s lives.  The ultimate gift technology can give is connecting us in a way that puts safety first.  There is truly nothing more important than safety.  And for those courageous and selfless first responders that risk their lives to save others every single day, this is the least we can do.”  

“Since 9/11, we have heard from police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel that communicating in a time of crisis is absolutely critical,” Rockefeller continued.  “This agreement will allow us to build a nationwide, interoperable communications network that is as reliable as the first responders that protect us.  It will quite literally save lives.”  

“This deal is shaping up to be a big win for our first responders,” Schumer said.  “More than a decade after 9/11, we are going to finally establish the national network that will let emergency workers talk to each other so we can avoid repeating the communication failures of that tragic day.  We have come close to getting this done before, and this time we refused to take no for an answer.  We had an eleventh-hour scare this week when House Republicans tried to allow the network to be created, but starve it of funding.  We insisted that the network must not only be created, but also get the resources it needs to get it up and running.  Together with Senator Gillibrand and Senator Rockefeller, we prevailed.”

“This is a major victory for America's first responders and the safety of our families and communities.  The attacks of September 11th demonstrated the need for our police, firefighters, and rescue personnel to have dedicated lines of communication,” Lautenberg said.  “The 9/11 Commission recommended a nationwide wireless emergency communications network for our first responders, and we are finally going to see it become a reality.  America’s first responders should be a first priority, and it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools they need to do the job.”  

“This is a huge win for public safety and a critical step towards fulfilling a key outstanding recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report,” said Gillibrand.  “A national, first responder broadband network will equip our firefighters, police officers, and first responders with the tools they need to communicate with each other in real-time during a national crisis.  There is no higher priority than the security of our families and communities.  It’s simply unacceptable when, as New York City Police Commissioner Kelly said in his testimony before Congress, ‘a 16-year-old with a smart phone has a more advanced communications capability than a police officer or deputy carrying a radio.’  I commend the leadership and dedication of my colleagues, including Leader Reid, Senator Rockefeller, who has championed this bill from day one, and my tremendous partner Senator Schumer, who never wavered in their efforts to bring our first responder technology into the 21st century.”

The final public safety spectrum agreement is based on the fundamental framework Chairman Rockefeller first developed in his public safety spectrum bill.  It has two essential elements.  First, it provides public safety with D-Block spectrum for a nationwide, wireless, broadband network.  Second, it provides the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with authority to hold new spectrum auctions, including voluntary incentive spectrum auctions.

Key Takeaways from the Spectrum Agreement:

  • Provides public safety officials across the country with the same spectrum resource—a portion of the 700 MHz wireless airwaves known as the D-Block—and $7 billion in dedicated funding to get a nationwide, wireless, broadband network using D-Block spectrum up and running;

  • Directs the FCC to auction underutilized government spectrum to commercial wireless providers;

  • Creates an independent First Responder Network Authority, which will be housed under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to develop the public safety network;

  • Permits state efforts to develop their own networks using the same protocols as the national system;

  • Provides up to $300 million for R&D critical for the development of next generation public safety communications; and

  • Preserves the opportunity for nationwide unlicensed use of spectrum known as “white spaces” to foster innovative new wireless technologies.