By John Eggerton
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says it is time to allocate, not auction, D block spectrum for a national interoperable public safety network.
That came in a hearing in the committee Wednesday on King's re-introduction of a bill (H 607) that would allocate the D block spectrum and pay for it through auction of broadcast and other spectrum to wireless companies. The hearing hosted public safety officials backing the bill and saying it was past time to create and fund the network in the shadow of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
William Carrow, president of the The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said that the needs of first responders are not being met, and that young people coming into public safety jobs have more capabilities on their personal communications devices than they do in their jobs. He said allocating the D block to public safety (10 MHz adjacent to the 10 MHz already allocated to public safety) is a unique opportunity to give public safety exactly what it needs.
King pointed out that it has been almost seven years since the 9/11 Commission recommended in 2004 that the network be built ASAP.
Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of the National Sheriffs' Association said that among all the recommendations, the public safety network is the only one that has not been acted on.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the committee and co-sponsor of the bill, pointed out that house Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) still supported auctioning the D block--for a public-private partnership--as did the FCC (a recommendation of the national broadband plan). But he called on them both to support allocation of the block.
Thompson said he hoped the hearing would convince the Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman and the FCC of "the importance of public safety" and that reallocation, not auction, was the way to go. He said Upton's desire to auction the spectrum to private interests and use the money for deficit reduction could be a case of being pennywise but pound foolish.
Under current law, the FCC is required to auction the D Block, which is why legislation would be needed to allocate it. The FCC tried to auction the block back in 2008, but it did not meet the minimum bid. The plan was to auction the spectrum to a private entity that would pay to build and maintain the network, but turn it over to first responders during emergencies.
Public safety officers testifying pointed out that the Obama administration has come out in favor of allocating the block, and that there is a Senate bill (S. 28) with bipartisan support.
A byproduct of both the House and Senate bills would be giving the FCC the authority to compensate broadcasters for spectrum reclaimed from them as part of the FCC and Obama administration's effort to free up up to 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband. That is because some of the money from that auction--estimated to raise in the tens of billions--would also go to building and maintaining the public safety network.
Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY) said reallocating the D block is "a matter of life and death," and King said he wanted to get the bill passed and signed by next Sept. 11.