Bipartisan Senate bill seeks to improve emergency communications for first responders

The legislation from Sens. Blackburn and Duckworth would codify the NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol Building on Sept. 27, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

A new bipartisan Senate bill would codify the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s research and engineering laboratory and task it with developing technologies for tracking and communicating with people trapped in confined spaces.

The ITS Codification Act from Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., calls for the NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences to function as the federal government’s primary lab for studying radio frequency emissions, in a move that Blackburn said would ensure that first responders can access “the best and most reliable equipment available, so that they can do their jobs to save lives.”

“Sometimes in emergency situations, individuals have no cell service or ability to be located by rescuers,” Blackburn said in a statement. “By codifying the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, we can improve technologies for these scenarios and ensure efficient and effective use of our scarce spectrum resources — helping to keep America on the front lines of innovation.”

The ITS lab would also be charged with determining the characteristics of spectrum propagation, testing technology that boosts the sharing of electromagnetic spectrum between federal and non-federal users, bolstering the interference tolerance of federal systems that rely on federal spectrum, and advocating for access to and the sharing of federal spectrum among federal and non-federal users.


“It’s critical that our first responders have access to reliable technology that can help them successfully locate and rescue individuals that find themselves trapped in confined spaces, often without any access to outside communication,” Duckworth said in a statement.

The legislation from Blackburn and Duckworth, who serve together on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is an identical companion to H.R. 1343, a bipartisan bill from Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., that passed the House by voice vote last April.

Matt Bracken

Written by Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken is the managing editor of FedScoop and CyberScoop, overseeing coverage of federal government technology policy and cybersecurity. Before joining Scoop News Group in 2023, Matt was a senior editor at Morning Consult, leading data-driven coverage of tech, finance, health and energy. He previously worked in various editorial roles at The Baltimore Sun and the Arizona Daily Star. You can reach him at

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