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Report Urges Congress To Act On Public Safety Network

August 31, 2011

A report released Wednesday detailing the unfinished recommendations from the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks called on Congress to act swiftly to finally build a national broadband public safety network aimed at improving communications for emergency first responders.

In a report card on the steps the United States has taken to respond to those attacks, the Bipartisan Policy Center listed the failure to address the communications problems among the nine items that remain unfinished 10 years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The inability of first responders to communicate with each other on demand was a critical failure on 9/11," reads the report, crafted with help from the co-chairmen of the federal commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, former Gov. Tom Kean, R-N.J., and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.

"Incompatible and inadequate communications led to needless loss of life. To remedy this failure, the commission recommended legislation to provide for the expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes. To date, this recommendation continues to languish."

It said the biggest obstacle at this point is a political battle in Congress over whether to give spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials or stick with current law, which requires that the D-block be auctioned off to commercial bidders.

"We support the immediate allocation of the D-block spectrum to public safety and the construction of a nationwide, interoperable broadband network. Because we don't know when the next attack or disaster will strike, we urge the Congress to act swiftly," the report said.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved spectrum legislation in June crafted by Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. It would reallocate the D-block to public safety for their broadband network and authorize funding to help build it.

Key House Republicans, however, have taken a different view. A draft bill released in July by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee, would stick with current law when it comes to the D-block. He has argued that public safety officials already have been given adequate spectrum to build their national broadband network.

Sean Kirkendall, a policy adviser to the Public Safety Alliance and Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials - International, said Walden has not changed his stand on the issue yet. Both the alliance and the association have been lobbying Congress in favor of reallocating the D-block to public safety and have endorsed the Senate Commerce bill.

In a statement Wednesday, Rockefeller, who has been pushing to get his bill passed before the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, said the Bipartisan Policy Center's report "is a wake-up call for everyone reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Implementing a national, interoperable radio system for our first responders is within our grasp."

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