Press Release

Gillibrand, Senate Colleagues Call for Swift Passage of First Responder Communications Bill

May 17, 2011

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today stood with her colleagues Senators John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to call on the House and Senate to join them in passing legislation to provide America’s first responders with lifesaving communications tools before the tenth anniversary of 9-11.

“New York City remains the number one target for terrorists around the world who want to harm Americans,” Senator Gillibrand said.  “Nearly ten years after 9-11, it’s time to bring our first responder technology into the 21st century.  If we’re going to keep our communities safe, we must ensure that local, state, and federal first responders can effectively communicate with each other in real time during a national crisis.”

“It’s embarrassing that any teenager with a smartphone has more communications capability than our firefighters, police officers and EMTs,” said Senator Rockefeller.  “It’s time we finally fulfill one of the last major recommendations of the 9-11 Commission and give our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.”

“As we saw so tragically on September 11th, communication devices are a lifeline for emergency workers, and that line must be made from woven steel, not frayed yarn,” said Senator Schumer.  “We have an obligation to make sure that our first responders have access to the most effective communications systems, in the same way we have an obligation to make sure they have weapons that don’t jam, fire hoses that don’t burst, and ambulances that don’t break down.”

“In a life-threatening emergency, first responders need to be able to communications with one another seamlessly—obtaining and sharing information in real time,” Senator Boxer said.  “This critical measure to ensure public safety was recommended by the 9-11 Commission and is supported by public safety agencies and state and local governments nationwide.”

“I have seen the bravery of our first responders who wake up every day with the mission of keeping our communities safe,” Senator Klobuchar said.  “We owe it to them to make sure they have the technology and resources they need to do their job.  A nationwide wireless network will allow our first responders to clearly communicate when disaster strikes and focus on doing what they do best—saving lives.”

The bill—the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 28)— would set aside additional airwaves for first responders to build a nationwide wireless broadband network.  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. 


 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—to the tune of $10 billion—will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit.