First Response Coalition: Flawed Final FCC Rule Underscores Need for Hill Action to Deal with Interoperability and Interference at Same Time

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of the late Friday release of the final version of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling endorsing the Nextel spectrum grab, firefighter Gene Stilp, the coordinator of the First Response Coalition, issued the following statement:

“The firefighters, police officers and concerned groups comprising the First Response Coalition are disappointed that the FCC has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deal with both the interference and interoperability problems that plague America’s first responders today. Now that the FCC has dropped the ball, it is time for Congress to step in and set things right.

“The Commission’s final rule may be a sweet deal for Nextel, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the police, firefighters, EMTs who would be best served by a more comprehensive approach. Congress can set this mess straight by killing two birds with one stone: the Nextel-created interference problem and the unresolved interdepartmental communications problems highlighted in recent days in the 9/11 Commission report.

“The Coalition continues to believe that the best – and only legal response – is a spectrum auction that earmarks funds for first responders by addressing the interference problem and also wipes out the interoperability crisis that still persists today as we approach the third anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

“As such, the First Response Coalition is renewing the call we made on August 5th to the chairs and ranking minority members of the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee, and Select Committee on Homeland Security and the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. (The full text of the Coalition’s letter is available online at http://firstresponsecoalition.org/hill_letter.shtml)

As we noted last week: ‘We continue to urge that Congress get involved in this situation. In fact, we believe that recent developments [the elevated terror threat in New York City/Washington, D.C. and the interoperability-related recommendations in the 9/11 Commission report] make an extremely powerful case for immediate hearings on the interoperability crisis and the overturning of the FCC/Nextel spectrum grab, which was carried out in violation of the intent of Congress …

The First Response Coalition believes that adequate funding for improving public safety communication systems is the highest priority. The Coalition advocates a common-sense solution: Congress requiring an auction for the frequencies at 1.9 GHz, which the FCC is giving away for free, and to then dedicate that money for public safety improvements. The First Response Coalition recognizes that low income, rural, and underserved communities lack the resources to upgrade their technology. It supports an accelerated regional deployment schedule to ensure that all public safety communications systems are interoperable by 2006, and that low-interest loans and loan guarantees are made available to assist underserved and economically-disadvantaged communities in obtaining the newest communications technologies.'”

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