First-responders seek broadband space

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) greets first responders as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) greets first responders as she arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 15, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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WASHINGTON - A phalanx of uniformed law-enforcement officers from New York and around the country came here Tuesday to lobby a deficit-reduction panel on creating a new broadband network for first-responders.

Backers of legislation to create a national public safety network said at a news conference that it's a "win-win" for the special congressional panel, which has a deadline of next Wednesday to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

"Not only does this legislation make our country safer, it also generates the necessary revenue to pay for the development and deployment of this network -- plus an additional $6.5 billion to pay down the deficit," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a key sponsor of the measure.

But Gillibrand, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and other backers of the bill said they will pursue other avenues to pass the legislation if the deficit-reducing "super committee" fails to reach a deal, as some fear it might.

Police, firefighter and other first-responder groups for the past year have been pushing Congress to set aside 10-megahertz of spectrum for a dedicated broadband network for public safety and to auction off other slices of spectrum to pay for its development and help reduce the deficit.

They say the network is needed not only to fix the problem that first-responders have in communicating by radio across agencies, but to give them the latest technology so they can also send data, photos and maps.

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Two members of the "super committee," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), voted against the public-safety network bills in committees earlier this year. Toomey, Upton and other foes of the measure say they put more trust in the private sector to develop a network, and that auctioning the spectrum instead of giving it to public safety will bring in more revenue to pay down the deficit. Calls to their offices were not returned Tuesday.

But Schumer said deficit reduction without the public safety network is "unacceptable."

Earlier this year, Gillibrand and other sponsors tried to include the network bill in legislation to raise the debt ceiling, but failed.

Now they are pushing the deficit-reduction panel to include it. If that fails, Schumer said the legislation's sponsors will try to add it to spending bills or a measure to extend taxes. Gillibrand said a stand-alone vote on the legislation is possible.

"We have bipartisan support. We need more," said New York Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Dowd, who is in charge of communications. "We need all of Congress."

He added that several public safety groups will continue lobbying not only the 12 super committee members -- six Democrats and six Republicans -- but other members of Congress who oppose the measure.

"Public safety is not going away on this issue," Dowd said.

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