The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, HR 451, with a decisive bipartisan vote of 397 to 5. Representative Elliot Engel (D-NY) sponsored the bill, which repeals a 2012 law directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off the T-Band frequencies starting in 2021.
“Fire fighters and emergency medical responders cannot safely and effectively serve the public without dependable communication systems. The IAFF will always fight to make sure those on the frontlines have the tools, like reliable radio systems, they need to do the job,” stated IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger. “While I send our thanks to the House of Representatives, the work isn’t complete. Now, we turn our focus to the Senate and call on them to get the job done.”
Without congressional action, public safety agencies on T-Band systems operating in large metropolitan regions would be forced to surrender critically essential communications frequencies by 2023, after the FCC auctions off the spectrum. The auctions are the result of the 2012 law creating FirstNet, the entity to oversee the deployment and operation of a nationwide public safety broadband network. That year, lawmakers incorrectly predicted that radio spectrum space would be available for public safety use by 2021. Public safety agencies are now in danger of losing critical communication capabilities.
In addition to availability, lawmakers were also wrong about the expected auction revenue needed to cover costs that would build a new communications system in each of the affected areas. Cost estimates for the new radio systems far exceed the anticipated revenues expected from FCC spectrum auctions. As governments deal with the effects of the global pandemic, fire departments do not have the extra funds to make up revenue shortfalls from the FCC. Given the tremendous fiscal challenges that departments are experiencing, repealing the auction requirement and retaining the T-Band spectrum through congressional action is the safest and most prudent measure for all involved.
The IAFF is diligently working with Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and other allies in the Senate to pass the bill into law before the end of the year.