Fire/emergency medical services Law enforcement Legislation

First responders, Congress unite in call to preserve T-Band for public safety use

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Photo: Rachel Donahue/iStockphoto

Washington — Legislation that would prevent the T-Band spectrum – a public safety radio network intended to ease communication among first responders in 11 metropolitan areas – from being auctioned to other users has garnered support from International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Board Chair Gary Ludwig and International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger.

Reintroduced in the Senate on Oct. 30 by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2019 (S. 2748) and its bipartisan House companion bill (H.R. 451) would repeal a provision of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 directing the Federal Communications Commission to auction T-Band airwaves by Feb. 22, 2021.

“Our members have to be able to communicate,” Schaitberger said during a March 10 press conference that included lawmakers, “and we need what we consider a critical voice to be able to do the tough work that they are charged with doing and that they do every single day. And remaining on the T-Band will allow that communication to continue.”

Added Ludwig: “Unfortunately, time is running out for Congress to act. The nation’s fire chiefs are not here to say, ‘How,’ but, respectfully, here to say, ‘Now.’”

Addressing the IAFF Legislative Conference on March 9 in Washington, FCC Chair Ajit Pai reiterated the agency’s opposition to reallocating the spectrum via auction.

“The agency has taken a hard look at the T-Band,” Pai said, “and we’ve concluded that moving forward with an auction of it wouldn’t be feasible. The costs to relocate public safety licenses to other spectrum would probably be much higher than any potential auction revenue we’d get from companies bidding to win licenses for this spectrum.

“Because of these concerns, I called on Congress last December to repeal the T-Band auction mandate. Currently, there are bills pending in Congress that would do just that. I’m hopeful that they can get the job done soon.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee approved an amended version of H.R. 451 in a markup March 10. On Dec. 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced Markey’s bill as a provision of the 5G Spectrum Act of 2019 (S. 2881).

“We have the momentum,” Markey said during the press conference. “This is an invaluable technology. First responders are heroes, but heroes need help. And T-Band is the trusted help which they have always looked to, and we’re going to make sure that it stays there for them in the future.”

 

Others who spoke during the press conference included Senate minority leader and bill co-sponsor Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who sponsored H.R. 451.

In December, FCC issued a public notice stating it has suspended further processing of T-Band renewal applications – an action Markey claims jeopardizes first responders’ safety.

A Government Accountability Office report released in June concluded public safety users in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, and Philadelphia “likely lack sufficient spectrum to relocate from T-Band.” The report includes FCC estimates for relocation costs reached as much as $6 billion.

Other metropolitan areas that use the T-Band spectrum are Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Oakland, and Washington/Maryland/Virginia. Schaitberger said a potential loss of T-band also would affect numerous emergency agencies adjacent to these metropolitan areas.

GAO recommended that Congress consider legislation allowing for the continued use of the T-Band spectrum for public safety purposes, noting “stakeholders in two metropolitan areas said the auction could result in substantial harmful effects on their ability to maintain continuous and effective communications during an emergency.”

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