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Bill Would Force Spectrum for Public Safety

Legislation giving public safety agencies greater access to shared broadcast frequencies for interoperable radio communications has been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D.Calif.), ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Curt Weldon (R.-Pa.), vice chair of the Armed Services Committee.

The Homeland Emergency Response Operations (Hero) Act sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2006, for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide public safety agencies sole access to the broadcast spectrum Congress set aside for them in 1997.

In the 1997 act, Congress authorized the FCC to re-allocate spectrum currently used by television stations using channels 63, 64, 68 and 69. The legislation mandates the television stations give up the spectrum by Dec. 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of the households in a market have access to digital television signals.

Harmon's legislation would drop the percentage requirements and simply require the stations to vacate the spectrum by 2006.

"The September 11 attacks made it abundantly clear that our first responders are in dire need of improved communications," said Harman. "Many firefighters in New York lost their lives in the World Trade Center because they were unable to communicate with first responders outside the buildings. The Hero Act seeks to remedy this problem by providing first responders with badly needed access to broadcast frequencies for communications."

The bill is endorsed by numerous public safety and civic organizations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International.

"With the introduction of this legislation, we are finally closing a dangerous loophole that has resulted in making the job of our emergency workers progressively more difficult. Today, we have taken an important first step in increasing the effectiveness of our everyday heroes," said Weldon.