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U.S. Spending Bill Blocks Auction Of First Responder Radio Frequencies

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First responders in New York are relieved that the latest U.S. spending bill stops the federal auction of their radio frequencies.

The Federal Communications Commission had been required under law to split up and sell the “T-Band” public-safety airwaves to consumers and corporations this year.

Myles Quinn is with the Brentwood Fire Department on Long Island, and chief of operations for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. He said the transition would have caused a disruption to daily emergency procedure.

“To lose that and have to replace it… Yes, there was nowhere to go. There were no radio frequencies available to replace everything we were using. The money that was spent on building the systems in Suffolk [County], we were looking at, I did an estimate, about $75 million to replace the fire department systems … So the money that would have been put on the burden of our taxpayers would have been phenomenal,” Quinn said.

U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin from Long Island sponsored the legislation in 2018 that was included in the latest federal spending bill to preserve public-safety airwaves.

“In the most dire of circumstances, the T-Band spectrum provides critical communications between our first responders. Even when you have cell phones and the internet and electricity ceasing to function, T-Band can serve as the last line of defense,” Zeldin said.

Before the law was passed, the FCC was required this year to start the sale of the T-Band to consumers and corporations. That meant first responders would have to move to a system regulated by an independent authority and AT&T.

The Government Accountability Office found that would cost up to $6 billion for first responders.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.