Coalition: FCC's Approval Fails First Responders

WASHINGTON, D.C. - July 8, 2004 - The firefighters, police officers and concerned groups comprising the First Response Coalition (http://www.FirstResponseCoalition.org) said today that the endorsement by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the Nextel spectrum grab "places politics ahead of the police and firefighter communication crisis highlighted by 9/11." The Coalition called on Congress through the GAO or the courts to overrule the FCC's ill-advised decision and dedicate funding for interoperability.

Gene Stilp, who is coordinator of the Coalition and a volunteer firefighter, EMT and vice president of the Dauphin-Middle Paxton Fire Company #1, in Dauphin, Pa., noted: This is a sad day for firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel across America. Since 9/11 this Administration has failed to provide funding to solve interoperability problems. Today's decision by the Commission continues to ignore this critical need. They had a major opportunity here, but they ignored the needs of first responders in order to solve a political problem and to bailout Nextel. We call upon the courts and Congress to reverse the FCC's decision. We urge them to adopt the first response plan, which will help solve the interoperability problem and the Nextel interference problem."

Stilp added: "The $2.5 billion letter of credit from Nextel pales in comparison to the five to 10 billion dollars that would be raised from a legitimate auction of this spectrum. This money could have been earmarked to make the interoperability problems in American cities and towns a thing of the past. Now we have another list of promises, inadequate funding and additional years of delay. To anyone who understands how thinly stretched the budgets of fire, police, and other emergency responders are today, this 'plan' is an extremely poor action that fails the public. Unfortunately, it is the American public that will pay the price here if the courts and Congress do not intervene to overrule the FCC."

COALITION EXPANDS

Since its launch in June, the First Response Coalition has grown rapidly in recent weeks to include the National Black Police Officers, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the California Seniors Coalition. In addition to Stilp and William Fox, commissioner, Metropolitan Fire Association, New York City, the Coalition's original members include the Gray Panthers, and the Black Chamber of Commerce, and the American Corn Growers.

BACKGROUND ON THE COALITION PLAN

On June 24, 2004, the First Response Coalition held a news conference to oppose the Nextel spectrum grab and to release a white paper entitled "Safety Over Spectrum: A Plan for First Responder Communications." The Coalition white paper outlined an alternate approach that puts the primary emphasis not on Nextel's commercial agenda, but, instead, on smoothing the way for police and firefighters struggling to address post-September 11th demands to improve and coordinate emergency communications.

The Coalition's white paper stated: "Today, and (as was) unfortunately evident on September 11th, the communications systems of public safety departments are not interoperable. It is difficult, if not impossible, for different departments from different (or sometimes the same) jurisdictions to communicate because their systems and equipment cannot interact. Resolution of this crisis must be swift, or the danger to our first responders and all Americans will continue to skyrocket ... As urgent and complicated as this problem is, the situation is exacerbated by the actions of Nextel Communications. Guised as an effort to help public safety departments eliminate interference problems in their communications systems, Nextel is waging a multi-million dollar campaign which is diverting attention and possible resources away from the real issue of communications interoperability."

As outlined late last month, the First Response Plan outlined by the Coalition calls for:

* Holding Nextel responsible for all instances of interference it causes and ensuring the company works with local public safety departments to resolve the problems.

* Auctioning spectrum in the 1.9 GHz band and earmarking the proceeds for upgrading first responder communications systems.

* Developing an accelerated regional deployment schedule to ensure that public safety communications systems are upgraded by 2006.

* Providing low-interest loans and guarantees to assist underserved and economically-disadvantaged communities in obtaining the newest communications technologies.

* Establishing advisory panels to recommend solutions that adequate address the disparate needs of America's diverse communities.

ABOUT THE COALITION

The First Response Coalition (http://www.FirstResponseCoalition.org) consists of citizens, individual first responders, and advocacy groups who are particularly concerned about first responders having the best possible communications capabilities. The First Response Coalition believes interoperability issues must be addressed by the FCC in any plan that reorganizes spectrum and will disrupt public safety communications systems across the country.

The First Response Coalition believes that adequate funding for improving public safety communication systems is the highest priority. It believes that a common-sense solution is for Congress to require an auction for the frequencies at 1.9 GHz, which The FCC is giving away for free, and to then dedicate that money for public safety improvements. The First Response Coalition recognizes that low income, rural, and underserved communities lack the resources to upgrade their technology. It supports an accelerated regional deployment schedule to ensure that all public safety communications systems are interoperable by 2006, and that low-interest loans and loan guarantees are made available to assist underserved and economically-disadvantaged communities in obtaining the newest communications technologies.

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