SENATOR MCCAIN STATEMENT ON THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SAVE LIVES ACT OF 2007
March 1, 2007
Mr. McCain. “Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce today the Spectrum Availability for Emergency-Response and Law-Enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act, otherwise known as the SAVE LIVES Act. The bill would provide public safety with the ability to use an additional 30 MHz of radio spectrum for a new nationwide public safety state-of-the-art broadband network. This would allow police, fire, sheriffs, and other medical and emergency professionals the ability to communicate using a modern and reliable broadband network, thereby allowing for interoperable communications between local, state and Federal first responders during emergencies.
“The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report states that: “Command and control decisions were affected by the lack of knowledge of what was happening 30, 60, 90, and 100 floors above” due to the inability of police and firefighters to communicate using their hand held radios. The Final Report recommended the “expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum to public safety entities” to resolve the problem. This bill would finally implement fully the recommendation.
“Let me be clear: the federal government has made many strides in developing a comprehensive, interoperable emergency communications plan, setting equipment standards, funding the purchase of interoperable communications equipment, and belatedly making additional radio spectrum available. But none of this is enough. We will not solve our nation’s interoperability crisis until all emergency personnel involved in responding to an incident are able to communication seamlessly, and that is what this legislation is intended to accomplish.
“I have been working on this issue for many years. Ten years ago, while serving as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I introduced the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Telecommunications Empowerment Act, which would have provided public safety with 24 MHz in the 700 MHz band and authorized 10 percent of proceeds from an auction of spectrum to commercial companies to be used to fund State and local law enforcement communications. Although my bill did not pass, Congress did require this spectrum to be allocated to public safety in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
“Unfortunately, this spectrum was encumbered by television broadcasters who refused to move despite broadcasters being given other spectrum in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The television broadcasters persuaded some members of Congress to slip into the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 a provision that allowed for broadcasters to retain their new spectrum and use the spectrum dedicated to public safety for an indefinite time.
“Rightly, public safety fought the broadcasters “spectrum squatting” and asked Congress to set a firm date for broadcasters to provide public safety spectrum. I was happy to support them in the fight.
“During the 108th Congress, I introduced a bill that would have provided public safety with this spectrum by January 1, 2008. The bill was not considered by the Senate. I also introduced an amendment to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to set a firm date for the delivery of this spectrum, but it was strongly opposed thank to the broadcasters.
“In October 2005, the Commerce Committee debated a firm date as part of the Budget Reconciliation Act of 2006. I offered an amendment to make the spectrum available by January 2007, but it was shot down by a vote of 17-5. I then took an amendment to the floor which was defeated by a vote of 30-69. Congress did finally set the date of February 17, 2009 -- date that is too late in my opinion.
“I have not only been concerned about public safety not receiving spectrum in a timely manner, but also not receiving enough spectrum. In 2004, I offered an amendment that was included in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to study the short-term and long-term spectrum needs of public safety. In December 2005, the FCC delivered their report. While the report did not contain a specific amount of spectrum necessary to aid public safety interoperability, it did state, “…. emergency response providers would benefit from the development of an integrated, interoperable nationwide network capable of delivering broadband services throughout the country.” DHS has never provided its report to Congress.
“The FCC’s recommendation became all too apparent during the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. First responders in
“Mr. President, I believe the SAVE LIVES bill provides that comprehensive and serious approach. The bill would establish a national policy for public safety spectrum directing that the 24 MHz allocated by Congress to public safety in 1997 be used for state, local and regional interoperability and that the 30 MHz in the 700 MHz band be available as needed for a national, interoperable public safety broadband network by local, state, regional and Federal first responders. These two networks would be interoperable, thereby allowing local, state, regional and Federal first responders to communicate. Congress has deemed spectrum in the 700 MHz band “ideal” for public safety communications because it can travel great distances and penetrate thick walls.
“The day before our nation experienced the worst act of terrorism on our soil, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee completed an 850-page study of public safety spectrum requirements and recommended that 97.5 MHz of additional spectrum be made available for public safety. In 1997, Congress set aside 24 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band for public safety use, but due to television broadcasters refusal to relocate from that spectrum, public safety will not have full use of the spectrum until February 2009. However, public safety states that the 24 MHz is not enough. Just last month, Fire Chief Charles Werner of
“The bill also would establish a “Public Safety Interoperable Working Group” (the Working Group) to establish user driven specifications for public safety’s use of the 30 MHz and then require the FCC to auction the 30 MHz under a “conditional license” that requires any winning bidder to meet public safety’s specifications to operate a national, interoperable public safety broadband network. If there is no winning bidder, then the license to the 30 MHz will revert to public safety, which could then use the spectrum for a national, interoperable public safety broadband network and work with the FCC to auction excess non-emergency capacity.
“To ensure public safety is using the spectrum effectively and efficiently, the bill would require the FCC to review public safety’s use of the 24 MHz to determine whether it could handle a national interoperable broadband network in addition to local, state and regional networks as technology improves. The bill would also require the FCC, DHS and public safety to review the possibility of moving most public safety communications to the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands thereby enhancing interoperability.
“As required by Congress, the FCC is slated to auction spectrum in the 700 MHz band by January 28, 2008. Except for the 24 MHz allocated to public safety, the remaining spectrum will be auctioned to commercial providers unless Congress dictates otherwise. Therefore any use of the 30 MHz by public safety must be considered quickly by Congress as the FCC would need to begin developing the rules for a conditional license by early fall to ensure that the auction date is not delayed.
“Late last year, the FCC stated, “The availability of a nationwide, interoperable, broadband communication network for public safety substantially could enhance the ability of public safety entities to respond to emergency situations … yet only 2.6 MHz is designated for nationwide interoperable communications in the 700 MHz public safety band.” This is unacceptable and that is why I believe the SAVE LIVES Act would solve the interoperability crisis that faces our country.
“We cannot survive another disaster such as 9/11 or Katrina without reforming our nation’s interoperable communications. I fought for many years to clear the 700 MHz spectrum for first responders and now that there is a firm date for the availability of this spectrum, we should ensure that a sufficient amount of spectrum is being provided to first responders. Again, this spectrum is slated to be auctioned in January 2008 to commercial entities, so if Congress does not act now to ensure that public safety can have some reasonable access to this valuable spectrum, it will be auctioned off without any consideration to our nation’s interoperability crisis and this opportunity will be lost forever.
“Mr. President, I know some critics would rather all of this spectrum be auctioned solely for commercial applications, such as wireless Internet surfing, instant messaging and phone services. I can assure you, Mr. President, I do not lay awake at night wondering why my children can’t surf the Internet on their cell phone from any location at any time, but I do worry about whether we will be adequately prepared to respond to the next disaster.
“I can only imagine how many lives could have been saved during 9/11 had this spectrum been available and I can only imagine how many victims of Hurricane Katrina could have been rescued sooner if only police, fire fighters and other emergency personnel had been able to communicate with each other. But instead of imagining, we have an obligation to act Mr. President. We can have a national, interoperable communications system available to first responders by 2009 if we act now to make this spectrum available to public safety.
“I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the SAVE LIVES Act.”
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