NJ Congressman Introduces Bill To Pay For First Responder Radio Upgrades

Rep. Steve Rothman

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A New Jersey Congressman wants to make sure the federal government helps local governments to pay for upgrades to out-dated communications equipment used by first responders.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) joined with House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-NY), to introduce the Help Emergency Responders Operate Emergency Systems (HEROES) Act on Tuesday. The bill would provide funding to help communities comply with a federal mandate to upgrade the communications equipment used by first responders before Jan. 1, 2013.

“Immediately following the horrific September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the capacity of our nation’s radio and communications networks was overwhelmed. This not only meant despair for individuals looking for family members, this also meant that First Responders were not able to coordinate or communicate their efforts to save lives and respond as effectively. We must make sure that never happens again,” Rothman said.

In 2004, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ensured more efficient use of the communications spectrum and greater spectrum access for first responders. This federal mandate is known as the “Narrowband Mandate,” which forces all first responders to upgrade their communications equipment and spectrum licenses by Jan. 1, 2013 to avoid the communications pitfalls in the aftermath of 9/11.

This issue was highlighted by the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” which included provisions to aid states and local governments in complying with the 2013 deadline. Unfortunately, the funding for the FCC mandate and elements of the 9/11 Commission Act has been drastically reduced because of budget cuts and in some cases these programs have been eliminated.

“This unfunded federal mandate will force already overburdened local taxpayers to finance these essential upgrades for our local first responders. More than 18,000 police departments, more than 26,000 fire departments, and millions of first responders across the country are impacted by this mandate,” said Rothman. “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. I am proud to stand with America’s first responders and Chairman Peter King in presenting this bipartisan solution. Our nation’s heroes deserve nothing less.”

“This legislation reaffirms my commitment to reallocating the D Block to public safety for the development of a national interoperable public safety wireless broadband network,” King added.

The HEROES Act of 2011 will:

  • Establish a $400 million DHS-administered Narrowbanding Compliance Assistance Program to assist first responders in meeting the Jan. 1, 2013 narrowband mandate
  • 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

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