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Eshoo, Chief Burns Tout Emergency Communications Network

Broadband network allows police, fire and other first-responders across the U.S. to communicate with each other.

Local police chiefs joined Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren in San Jose today to highlight a new law that will create a nationwide broadband communications network to connect police, firefighters and other first-responders.

The law is part of the larger "Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act," which was signed by President Barack Obama in February.

It allows a government-owned broadband spectrum known as the "D-Block," worth about $2.8 billion, to be used for the new nationwide first-responder network, Eshoo said.

The law also sets aside $7 billion in federal funding to go toward the creation of the network, Eshoo said at a morning news conference.

San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore likened the sought-after D-Block spectrum, which had been coveted by wireless companies, to "beachfront property."

Moore had made trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the law's passage.

"Every time I went to (Capitol) Hill people said, 'This isn't going to happen,'" Moore said.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the law's passage is "proof that things can get done in Washington."

Eshoo explained that currently, police within one department can communicate with each other but they often lack the technology to quickly share information with firefighters, outside police departments or other key players.

"This is to tie them all together, regardless of where they are," Eshoo said.

For instance, Palo Alto police and fire Chief Dennis Burns said, a firefighter could have real-time access to traffic updates in order to reach a fire more quickly.

In another scenario, he said, police investigators could scan a suspect's fingerprint at the time of an arrest, or instantaneously transmit a missing person's photo to nearby law enforcement agencies.

Today, Eshoo said, there are hurdles to agencies sharing information.

"We do not have a seamless system today," Eshoo said.

The new network will eventually replace the existing system of radio communication, which Moore called inefficient.

Eshoo described the law as having a neutral impact on the national budget.

The law raises money by allowing the Federal Communications Commission to buy under-used but valuable broadcast spectrum from TV broadcasters, then re-sell it to wireless companies at higher rates.

The venture is expected to raise $25 billion, $7 billion of which will go toward the creation of the nationwide network, Eshoo said.

States can choose to opt out of the network if they demonstrate that they can build their own network and connect it to the national network.

The law also provides $155 million in grants to state and local emergency responders to improve 911 services, including by enabling 911 call centers to receive text messages, photos and video, according to Eshoo's office.

--Bay City News

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