Rep. Giffords’ Idea: Improve Mobile Communications Near Border

By John R Parkinson

Mar 31, 2011 8:14pm

ABC News' John R. Parkinson reports:

At the request of the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Texas Congressman Ted Poe introduced the “Southern Borderlands Public Safety Communications Act” Thursday, which would provide people in remote areas without cellular service near the border with cell phone service to call for help in the event of an emergency. 

Giffords, D-Arizona, was apparently poised to introduce the legislation herself early on in the 112th Congress, but then the Tragedy in Tucson struck just a few days after the new session commenced.

According to Poe, the measure would authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to make grants available for public-private partnerships that finance equipment and infrastructure to improve public safety of residents of rural areas of the United States-Mexico border by enhancing access to mobile communications.

Poe went to the House floor Thursday to highlight the need for the legislation and credited Giffords for coming up with the idea after one of her constituents, rancher Rob Krentz, was murdered by Mexican drug smugglers on his rural property where he was unable to call 9-1-1 because he was out of reach of cell phone service.

“In this remote area many times cell phones do not work,” Poe, R-Texas, said. “I am filing legislation that is the idea of Ms. Giffords. This bill is in memory of Robert Kentz, the Arizona rancher who was murdered by an illegal on his own property one year ago. Mr. Kentz is a former rancher whose family still lives in Arizona. News reports indicate Mr. Kentz was in a cell phone “dead zone” when he was murdered, and this bill will provide people in remote areas on the dangerous border area with cell phone service to call for help.”

Poe and Giffords worked on a bipartisan resolution to bring the National Guard to the border last year after Kentz’s murder. To date, no one has been charged with Kentz’s murder.

Poe was in Arizona last week at the invitation of Giffords’ office for a border tour. Giffords represents Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, which has a 114-mile border with Mexico in the southeastern region of the state.

“It was very obvious to me during my recent visit to Southern Arizona that there are too many areas where cell phones simply do not work. We have the same problem in parts of Texas,” Poe said in a statement Thursday. “Congresswoman Giffords and I believe that if the Federal Government is not going to protect its citizens who live in fear each day on the border, the least it can do is give them the resources to call for help if they are in danger.”

Shortly after Kentz’s murder, Giffords attended a rancher town hall to hear about what had happened and to brainstorm ideas on how to address it. One idea that emerged from that town hall was to improve cell phone service. 

C.J. Karamargin, spokesman for Giffords, said that while Giffords was headed to the town hall last year, she had actually attempted to call Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, but even a member of the president’s cabinet and a member of Congress were unable to connect with each other in rural Arizona. Karamargin says that Giffords later personally raised the issue with President Obama and also discussed bringing the national guard to border to help combat the threat of drug smugglers.

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