Public safety hopes for piece of $787 billion stimulus package
Both houses of Congress on Friday approved legislation calling for $787 billion in economic-stimulus funds. The package includes more than $6 billion for broadband deployments—a portion of which public-safety officials are hopeful will be used to build networks that are used to support first-responder communications.
Negotiated in a conference committee of House and Senate representatives last week, the language in the stimulus legislation indicates that some of the funds dedicated to broadband deployment can be used to “improve access to, and use of, broadband service by public-safety agencies.” However, there are several other categories of potential users that also are expected to vie for the broadband monies.
“We didn’t get what we asked for, but there’s language in there that helps [public-safety communications],” Harlin McEwen, chairman of the technology committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “There is language in there that allows us to be eligible for some of the broadband funding.”
When the stimulus package first was discussed, some Beltway sources said that as much as $50 billion could be dedicated to broadband deployments, but that number dipped under $9 million when the initial bills were approved by the House and the Senate.
Under the conference agreement, the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) would oversee $2.5 billion in broadband grants targeted for distance learning, telemedicine and broadband programs. Another $4.7 billion would be disbursed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to accelerate broadband deployment in underserved areas, and to create jobs or provide significant public benefits.
Other items in the legislation include $650 million for coupons to pay for digital-to-analog converter boxes associated with the DTV transition, $2.765 billion in state and local law-enforcement grants, $1 billion for community-oriented policing services for the hiring of additional law-enforcement officers, $500 million for the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management program and $210 million for fire-station construction.
On Friday night, the U.S. Senate passed the stimulus legislation by a 60-38 vote. Earlier on Friday, the House passed the same legislation by a 246-183 margin, with no Republican representatives casting a supporting vote. The measure has been sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign the legislation into law later today in Denver.