On Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-FL) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) introduced legislation to save the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).
The legislation, H.R. 6768, would reauthorize FirstNet set to expire in 2027. Created to fulfill one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, FirstNet was established to create a single, nationwide broadband network specifically for first responders.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, signed into law in February 2012, allocated $7 billion and 20 megahertz of broadband spectrum to establish the network and create the FirstNet Authority. FirstNet contracted with AT&T to deploy the network, which will be fully operational by 2023.
However, the law terminates FirstNet’s authority in 2027 and does not identify an agency to oversee the network or its operations and updates after 2027.
The General Accountability Office recommended Congress take action 10 years after the law’s enactment – Feb. 22, 2022.
“As a former 27-year law enforcement officer and Chief of Police, Chair of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, and as the mother of a firefighter, it is critical that Congress pass this legislation to enhance first responder communications,” Demings said. “This has been a goal since September 11th, 2001, when I remember serving as Commander of the Orlando Police Officers stationed at Orlando International Airport and struggling to receive comprehensive and timely information.”
FirstNet Authority CEO Edward Parkinson said the legislative reauthorization was key to ensuring the network continues to serve all Americans.
“We thank Congresswomen Demings and Fletcher for introducing this timely legislation, which would help ensure that our first responders can stay connected, effective, and safe in the field,” Parkinson said. “The FirstNet Authority is the only dedicated nationwide broadband network for our nation’s first responders and serves over 19,000 public safety agencies and organizations with 3 million connections in every U.S. state and territory. The legislation would provide certainty for the FirstNet Authority to continue its focus on improving and innovating the network so that responders have the tools they need to help ensure the safety of the American people. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration on the reauthorization of this critical program that benefits public safety across the country.”