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Dems: COVID-19 Bill Should Include Saving T-Band for First Responders

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and other Democratic senators want the next coronavirus aid bill to include a provision that would keep T-band spectrum (470-512 MHz) in the hands of first responders. 

“At a time when first responders already face enormous pressure and economic strain to address the pandemic, the last thing we should do is saddle them with millions of dollars in costs to needlessly alter their critical communications systems,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Senate Commerce Committee leaders.     

Related: Senate Dems Say T-Band Must Be Protected 

The 2012 Middle Classs Tax Relief and Job Creation Bill directed the FCC to auction that spectrum.  

Markey, along with Sens Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), last fall introduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, which repeals the auction. They want that bill included in a coronavirus aid package. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, usually eager to free up midband spectrum wherever he can get it for 5G, also opposes the reallocation and auction of the T-Band and has told first responders he has not intention of doing so. 

"The agency has taken a hard look at the T-band," said Pai in a speech to firefighters, "and we’ve concluded that moving forward with an auction of it wouldn’t be feasible. The costs to relocate public safety licensees to other spectrum would probably be much higher than any potential auction revenue we’d get from companies bidding to win licenses for this spectrum." 

Pai's opposition to that auction notwithstanding, and citing the fact that there is still a legislative mandate to auction the T-Band by 2021, the FCC in December suspended the processing of applications for T-Band licenses, including renewals, which likely helped light a fire on the Hill.