Senate Commerce Committee members yesterday decided by voice vote to approve an amendment to the massive communications bill making $1 billion in interoperability funds available to first-responder agencies this fall.

Offered by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the amendment would make the $1 billion in interoperability funds available by Oct. 1, instead of forcing public-safety entities to wait until after the 700 MHz auction—the revenue source supporting the funds—to be conducted in 2008.

“This is not new money, but it would accelerate when [public safety] could use it,” said Yucel Ors, legislative director for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.

Ors also noted that the Senate bill also calls for the interoperability funds to be disbursed through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which handles most interoperability funding. However, the $1 billion in interoperability money from the 700 MHz auction currently is supposed to be administered by the Department of Commerce, which has created some questions in the public-safety community regarding guidelines associated with the funding.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) applauded the amendment to the proposed Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act.

“I commend Senators Vitter and Boxer for leading the effort to ensure our nation’s first responders have funding for interoperable communications as quickly as possible,” Stevens said in a prepared statement. “The unanimous support among our members demonstrates this committee’s commitment to our public-safety community. Public safety is not a partisan issue.”

The committee will reconvene on Tuesday to continue markup of the communications bill.