Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) pledged to heed the 9/11 Commission's report and improve communications among the nation’s first responders as the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center nears.
King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, is seeking House support for a bill allocating a 10 MHz radio channel on the communications spectrum for public safety.
"I urge the House to take up my legislation, H.R. 607, as soon as possible so that we can provide our nation's first responders with the tools they require to fulfill their mission," King said in statement.
His bill, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011, sets aside the D Block channel for first responders to communicate in the wake of a massive disaster. Allocating D Block for public safety would strengthen first responders' communication capabilities to carry out complex duties, King said.
The New York lawmaker first introduced the bill in February in response to the 41 recommendations issued by 9/11 Commission in 2004. It has since received bipartisan support from President Barack Obama, and Democrats and Republicans alike on the House homeland security committee.
However, the legislation has been stalled by arguments over whether to allocate the D Block directly to the public safety sector or auction it off to a commercial wireless bidder who would then be required to provide priority access to the public safety sector during emergencies.
King believes allocating D Block for the use of public safety is in the nation’s best interest.
The commission's 9/11 10 anniversary report noted that the U.S. governments response since the 2001 attacks have been "dramatic."
"The FBI, CIA and broader intelligence community have implemented significant reforms, disrupting many plots and bringing to justice many terrorist operatives," the report found.
However it chided local, state and national governments for failing to correct the incompatible and inadequate communications that led to needless loss of life during the 9/11 attacks in New York City and the District of Columbia.
"Despite the lives at stake, the recommendation to improve radio interoperability for first responders has stalled," the commission stated.
First responders currently have a 700 MHz band of the spectrum. Adding the D Block to the existing public safety spectrum would allow first responders to construct a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network, police and public safety leaders say.
The expanded network would allow the agencies to communicate with each other via voice, video, text and other data transmission.
"I was heartened to see the commissioners repeat their support for immediate reallocation of the D Block for public safety for the construction of a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for use by America's first responders," King said.
He continued, "I pledge to continue to work with Speaker [John] Boehner and other House leaders to implement this important recommendation on House committee jurisdiction."
King also vows to reorganize the maze of congressional committees that oversees the DHS's operations. DHS currently answers to over 100 congressional committees and subcommittees, with concurrent and overlapping jurisdiction, he explained.