Press Release

Gillibrand-Schumer Statement on Inclusion of Nationwide Communications System for First Responders in Payroll Tax Cut Extension Package

Feb 16, 2012

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer issued the following statement today as Senate and House negotiators announced a package to extend the payroll tax cut for middle class families, unemployment insurance and the “doc fix” will include a critical first responder communications bill. The legislation, which has broad support of law enforcement and public safety officials across the country, fulfills a key outstanding recommendation of the 9-11 Commission Report and is a huge victory for public safety. The legislation creates a national broadband communications system by auctioning unused spectrum and allocating 10 megahertz of spectrum known as the “D block” to first responders and dedicates $7 billion to create and set up the first responders network.

Senator Gillibrand said: “This is a huge win for public safety and a critical step towards fulfilling a key outstanding recommendation of the 9-11 Commission Report. 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.” 

Senator Schumer said: “This deal is shaping up to be a big win for our first responders. 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.” 

The final public safety spectrum agreement is based on the fundamental framework Chairman Rockefeller first developed in his public safety spectrum bill that was championed by Senators Gillibrand and Schumer.  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.