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Bill To Fund Emergency Communications Equipment Upgrades Introduced

The bill is in response to a FCC regulation requiring first responders to upgrade their communications equipment and spectrum licenses by Jan. 1, 2013.

A bipartisan bill to fund upgrades to first responders’ communication equipment has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., and Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J., introduced the proposed “Help Emergency Responders Operate Emergency Systems (HEROES) Act.”

The bill is in response to a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulation requiring first responders to upgrade their communications equipment and spectrum licenses by Jan. 1, 2013, the representatives say. This FCC rule is popularly known as the “narrowband mandate,” and it seeks to ensure more efficient use of the communications spectrum and greater spectrum access for first responders, the representatives say. However, budget cuts have resulted in reduced funding for the FCC regulation, which has also resulted in the elimination of some programs, according to the representatives.

“This unfunded federal mandate will force already overburdened local taxpayers to finance these essential upgrades for our local first responders,” said Rothman, who added that more than 18,000 police departments, more than 26,000 fire departments, are impacted by the regulation. “Without adequate funding, many of these local first responders will be left with radio and communications equipment that will be unable to operate during an emergency,” he said.

King added that the proposed HEROES Act would establish a federal grant program for local municipalities to apply for funding for essential communications equipment that the federal government requires them to upgrade. That would provide the nation’s first responders with “much needed assistance” as they approach narrow banding deadline, he said. Highlights of the bill are:

– Creation of a $400 million Narrowbanding Compliance Assistance Program to help first responders meet the January 2013 narrowband deadline.

– Use the sale of federally owned spectrum to pay for the competitive grant program

– Reallocate the D block to public safety and provide funding for the construction of a national interoperable public safety wireless broadband network