On September 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020 (H.R. 451) on a 410 to 5 vote. Introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the bill would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from being forced to auction the T-Band spectrum (470-512 MHz), commonly used for public safety communications by local governments. The FCC is statutorily forced to auction the T-Band by February 2021. Supported by NACo, the bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
In 2012, President Barrack Obama signed Public Law 112-96, which included a provision requiring the FCC to begin auctioning the public safety T-Band spectrum by February 2021 and clear all public safety operations from the band within two years of auction close. However, many local governments still rely on the T-Band to respond to calls for emergency assistance, such as local emergency medical service (EMS), fire department and law enforcement personnel, among others. Using the T-Band, 911 telecommunicators dispatch first responders to people in need, EMS teams speak to each other and firefighters call for mutual aid. The move is expected to cost local governments $5 to $6 billion and auction proceeds are not projected to sufficiently cover relocation expenses. The challenges to relocating emergency communication systems during a public health crisis are exasperated by unprecedented costs and revenue shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NACo supports preserving public safety’s access to the T-Band and urges Congress to pass the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020. In April 2020, NACo signed onto a coalition letter to Congressional leaders strongly urging Congress to include language that would repeal the T-Band auction in any legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. NACo will continue to monitor advocate for this legislation.