House leaders applaud new contract for first nationwide public safety broadband network

U.S. Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) together praised the announcement last week of a $46.5 billion initiative to build a nationwide high-speed wireless network for first responders, a new communications infrastructure designed to improve public safety.

Walden, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Blackburn, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, joined the Department of Commerce in announcing the public-private partnership between the First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, and AT&T.

“Through this public-private partnership, FirstNet can begin to deliver on its mission: to provide our first responders with a nationwide, high-speed, interoperable broadband network; to equip our first responders with the same robust communications capabilities enjoyed by the public; and to provide tools that transcend the limits of the land mobile radios on which they had for so long relied,” Walden said.

“Perhaps most importantly, FirstNet will help deliver on the final recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and bring the most up-to-date communications capabilities to our nation’s first responders, the brave men and women who protect us daily, throughout the states, territories, and tribal lands — in all areas — rural, urban and in-between.”

As the former chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Walden began work in 2012 on legislation that outlined terms of the FirstNet nationwide public safety network.

During large, crowded events or emergencies, networks can become overloaded and inaccessible. That limits the ability of first responders to use critical communications tools, like smartphones and mobile apps, to reach one another. Having the ability to send high-speed data is critical for police, firefighters and emergency medical services to perform their duties.

Blackburn said at the event that the communications solution will “bring safety to our communities, to our streets, and allow our first responders who now can be knitted together, to provide the type of safety that is expected. To provide the type of response that is expected.”

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), a member of the subcommittee, said first responders must be able to effectively and efficiently communicate with each other over a secure network during emergencies.

“A national broadband network specifically devoted to public safety will help our first responders do their jobs better and give them the communications tools they need to protect our communities day in and day out,” Brooks said.

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), vice chair of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, also applauded the public-private partnership that will make FirstNet a reality.

“On one of the worst days in the history of our nation we saw tremendous bravery from first responders,” Lance said. “Their iconic heroism on 9/11 is forever engrained in the country’s memory. One of the promises of that day was to deliver to our first responders a nationwide wireless broadband network for improved communications. This is an important new tool for those entering dangerous situations. Robust communications capabilities will save lives.”