April 03, 2020

Van Hollen, Markey Call for Preserving First Responders’ Access to Emergency Spectrum in Next Coronavirus Economic Relief Package

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and six of their Senate colleagues today in urging Senate leadership to include language that would preserve first responders’ access to T-band spectrum (470–512 MHz) in upcoming coronavirus economic relief legislation. 

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act repeals a provision of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off this band of spectrum by 2021. Police and fire fighters in highly-populated metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere use critical T-Band spectrum for emergency public safety communication. Agencies across the country have invested millions of local, state, and federal dollars in the T-Band networks, which offer the reliable coverage and regional interoperability that first responders require for mission critical voice communications. 

“At a time when first responders already face enormous pressure and economic strain to address the pandemic, the last thing we should do is saddle them with millions of dollars in costs to needlessly alter their critical communications systems,” write the Senators in their letter to Senate and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee leadership.

Also signing the letter are Senators Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-16) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. FCC Chairman Pai has called on Congress to repeal the mandate to auction T-Band spectrum. 

The full text of the letter is available here. 

A recent study by the United States Government Accountability Office noted that the cost of relocating T-Band users to other bands of spectrum would cost between $5 and $6 billion, and for many T-Band users, alternative bands of spectrum are limited or “nonexistent.”