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First Responders Launch Campaign for Nationwide Communications Network

June 07, 2010  | 

The Public Safety Alliance has begun a national campaign calling on Congress to modify the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan so first responders rather than commercial carriers would operate a national communications network.

The alliance is comprised of major national organizations representing police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies "concerned by the lack of a nationwide interoperable communications network they desperately need to keep America safe and respond to crime, fire, emergencies, acts of terrorism and natural disasters," according to the group.

"The unprecedented unity in the first-responder community demonstrates how critical this communications capability is for those who put their lives on the line everyday to protect America," said Rob Davis, San Jose's police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. "Almost nine years since this need was tragically underscored on 9/11, it's long overdue for Congress immediately to hold hearings and help keep America safe by providing this nationwide communications network, controlled and operated by public safety, not by commercial carriers."

Specifically, the FCC's National Broadband Plan calls for the auction of the 700 MHz D-Block spectrum to wireless carriers for commercial use. Under the FCC's current plan, commercial carriers would build, implement and operate the system. The Public Safety Alliance is calling for congressional hearings and for Congress to allocate the D-Block spectrum to public safety.

The Public Safety Alliance supports H.R. 5081—also known as the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2010—that would allocate directly to public safety the spectrum needed to establish a nationwide interoperable communications network.

"It is mind boggling that America remains vulnerable in these days of constant communications when a text to American Idol takes precedence over our first responders' ability to communicate with each other over common radio frequencies," said Jeff Johnson, chief of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, as well as president and chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

First responders hope to expand the use of bandwidth-intensive technologies such as streaming video and wireless transmission of data to fight crime and respond to natural disasters or acts of terrorism.

The alliance is a partnership among the nation's leading public safety associations that includes the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association and the National Emergency Management Association. The partnership is operated as a program of APCO International.

The position of public safety is also supported by the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the Council of State Governments, the International County/City Management Association, the National Council of State Legislatures, the National Criminal Justice Association and the American Public Works Association.

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