Senators urge spectrum increase for responders

Two senators introduced legislation this week that would provide public safety organizations with more radio spectrum by Jan. 1, 2009.

The Spectrum Availability for Emergency Response and Law Enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act (SAVE LIVES), sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), would require television broadcasters to use their digital television spectrum and to return their analog television spectrum before Jan. 1.

The legislation "ensures that when our nation experiences another attack or is confronted with a natural disaster or emergency, our police, firefighters and emergency response personnel will have the ability to communicate with each other to prevent another catastrophic loss of life," McCain said in a statement.

Public safety officials have said that the amount of allocated spectrum they have is insufficient for interoperability. Spectrum allocations to public safety are fragmented, meaning that different agencies or neighboring communities could be operating in different frequencies making communication impossible.

And while most first responders have used spectrum, which is essentially a limited resource, for voice communications, increasingly they are also using data, geospatial and video applications.

Several organizations praised the bill, which has not been assigned a number yet.

"Since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and then again with the September 11 (2001) terrorist attacks, the National League of Cities has asked Congress to clear the frequencies for public safety emergency communication," said Don Borut, NLC’s executive director, in a press release. "The SAVE LIVES Act would set December 31, 2008 as the date."

According to the Spectrum Coalition for Public Safety, a national coalition of cities, states and public safety associations that advocates acquiring additional spectrum for public safety use, the bill also delays auction of critical spectrum until Congress has an opportunity to consider more public safety needs for spectrum.

"By delaying the auctioning of recovered spectrum public safety will have an opportunity for a full evaluation of their needs," said Robert LeGrande, a coalition representative and deputy chief technology officer for Washington, D.C., in a press release. "This is a critical step in the creation of national, interoperable, broadband wireless public safety networks."

Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer for the Consumer Electronics Association, also praised the bill saying a hard cut-off date for analog date for analog broadcasts will provide certainty for consumers, manufacturers, broadcasters and all others with a stake in the digital television transition.

House lawmakers have reintroduced the Homeland Emergency Response Operations (HERO) Act that would ensure that TV broadcasters transfer a 24 MHz piece of spectrum to public safety officials by no later than Jan. 1, 2007, which is also a move supported by first responders. H.R. 1646 has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

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