Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have introduced a long-awaited bill that will allocate a valuable chunk of airwaves to public-safety agencies for the creation of a nationwide public-safety network.
The Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011 would also provide up to $5.5 billion in funding to build the network, a key concern for rural areas that will rely on federal funding to ensure the network reaches their way. Another $5.5 billion is provided for long-term maintenance. Estimates about the network's cost have generally been about $12 billion.
The bill would auction spectrum as a way to raise revenue for the network. Leftover cash would go to deficit reduction.
“As it stands now, the mobile device the average teenager carries has more capability than those of the men and women who put their lives on the line for us each and every day — and that’s just wrong,” Lieberman said. “Public-safety communicates on slices of scattered spectrum that prevent interoperable communications among agencies and jurisdictions and that do not allow the large data transmissions that we take for granted in today’s commercial communications.
“We have slightly more than 100 days until the 10-year anniversary of the horrific events of 9/11. I hope over the next 100 days the Senate majority leader will consider bringing this bill to the floor for full consideration and that at that time, my colleagues will join me and Sen, Lieberman in providing public safety with the interoperable communications network they deserve,” said McCain. “It is the least we can do for those who put their lives in danger each and every day to protect all of us.”
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) is working on a similar plan, while House Energy and Commerce Republicans are exploring less-costly options.