Barry Einsig, chair of the Joint Council on Transit Wireless Communications, represented APTA at an Aug. 30 meeting of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network Subcommittee of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC). Einsig presented the public transit perspective, related to agencies’ unique needs for an enhanced communications system, potential assets for building a new network, and role as regional first responders.
On Feb. 22, President Obama signed P.L. 112-96, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. While this act focuses mostly on taxes, unemployment compensation, and Medicare policy, it also establishes a National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) solely for emergency responders. Specifically, it reallocates a unique portion of broadband spectrum known as the “D-block” for wireless communications among public safety personnel.
The traditional public safety community (police, fire, and EMS) supported a national, interoperable communications network for years, and their support intensified following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Today, public transit agency public safety personnel (i.e., transit police and emergency management personnel) exist as an integral part of the first responder community and joined advocacy efforts to create a NPSBN.
The bill initially narrowed the definition of “public safety provider,” which excluded public transit; in other words, agency public safety personnel would not be eligible to access the new wireless network. APTA and its partners successfully lobbied Congress to expand the definition to include transit police and related personnel.
The act also provides $7 billion in grants to assist local entities with costs related to the buildout of the network and creates the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet will serve as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration charged with all responsibilities related to the construction, deployment, and operation of the new broadband network in consultation with federal, state, and local government stakeholders. NSTAC will also partner with FirstNet and the public safety community to roll out the new communications network.
Through the Joint Council, APTA will remain involved with the NSTAC and its activities to involve NPSBN stakeholders. To supplement this, APTA will continue to highlight this issue to its members and promote their involvement.