February 13, 2012

Gillibrand Urges Congressional Negotiators to Include National Communications Network for First Responders in Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Bipartisan Senate Legislation Provides More Than $6 Billion To Help Offset Cost of Payroll Tax Cut Package, Would Finally Fulfill Key Recommendation of 9/11 Commission Report, Create Dedicated National Broadband Communications Network For All First Responders To Communicate In Real Time During A Crisis

Washington, DC – As Senate and House negotiators continue to work towards a deal to extend the payroll tax cut for middle class families, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a letter today urging conferees to include a critical first responder communications bill in any final package. The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 911), which Senator Gillibrand has helped champion, would create a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network equipping all first responders across local, state, and federal levels with crucial lifesaving communications tools and technology in the event of a major crisis. The bipartisan bill, which provides more than $6 billion to help offset the total cost of the payroll tax cut package, would finally fulfill a key longstanding recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report and help save lives. 

In a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Gillibrand wrote, “This bipartisan legislation would help offset costs by $6.5 billion, while also implementing a major outstanding recommendation of the 9-11 Commission… ten years later this major recommendation continues to languish.  With S. 911, we have an opportunity to enact a revenue generating, bipartisan solution that is supported by virtually every major public safety organization, as well as governors, mayors, police and fire chiefs from across the United States.” 

Gillibrand urged the conferees not to shortchange funding for the network. And as law enforcement officials such as New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have advocated, Gillibrand stressed that the network should be a dedicated public system run by an independent, non-profit company rather than a web of private companies. 

The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act would set aside additional spectrum to create a dedicated nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.  This network would allow first responders to communicate seamlessly—from coast-to-coast—during a time of crisis.  Firefighters would be able to download detailed floor plans before rushing into burning buildings.  EMTs would be able to send pictures from an accident scene to doctors in the emergency room.  This kind of situational awareness would protect first responders and save lives. The bill would also provide for voluntary incentive spectrum auctions to pay for the cost of creating a nationwide, interoperable broadband network. 

Specifically, the bill would: 

·         Allocate a swath of spectrum, called the “D-Block,” to first responders for the purpose of creating a public safety communications network;  

         Give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum.  The funds raised by these incentive auctions will be billions beyond what is needed to pay for building the public safety network.   Excess funds will help offset the total cost of the payroll tax cut package. 

Full text of the letter is below:  

Dear Chairman Baucus, Chairman Camp and all Conferees;  

I write to urge you to include S. 911, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, in the payroll tax extension bill that the conference is currently drafting.  This bipartisan legislation would help offset costs by $6.5 billion, while also implementing a major outstanding recommendation of the 9-11 Commission.   

S. 911 would provide our nation’s first responders with 10 MHz of broadband spectrum, commonly known as the “D-block,” in order to construct a nationwide interoperable broadband communications network.  To pay for the creation of this network, the legislation authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to conduct voluntary incentive auctions of a variety of spectrum.   

By fully funding S. 911, we would achieve 95% coverage in the United States.  Therefore, I urge you to resist attempts to curtail funding because that would result in rural or mountainous regions being left out of the network.  In addition, I encourage you to allow public safety to keep their narrowband spectrum until they are able to convert to the national interoperable broadband network.  Lastly, the final language should protect taxpayers from impropriety by creating an independent, non-profit to build and maintain the network at a national level instead of relying on mishmash of private companies with different goals and abilities.  

On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced an unprecedented attack on our soil, and lives were lost due to the inability of first responders to effectively communicate with each other.  The 9-11 Commission called on Congress to act, but ten years later this major recommendation continues to languish.  With S. 911, we have an opportunity to enact a revenue generating, bipartisan solution that is supported by virtually every major public safety organization, as well as governors, mayors, police and fire chiefs from across the United States.  

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to working with you to finally make a nationwide interoperable public safety network a reality.