For the past year, national public-safety organizations have been asking Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block so the airwaves could be combined with the spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to provide the spectral foundation for a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety.

For the most part, the request has largely fallen on deaf ears in the nation’s capital. Federal law states that the FCC must auction the D Block to commercial operators, and only a new law from Congress can change that. The fact that the FCC’s national broadband plan recommended that the D Block be reauctioned — as opposed to recommending reallocation to public safety or taking no position on the matter — reinforced the idea that the D Block would be auctioned early next year.

At that point, there appeared to be little hope attached to the public-safety reallocation request. After all, public safety does not have an army of highly paid lobbyists to turn the tide on Capitol Hill, and the expert federal agency — the FCC — supports an auction, because it wants to promote competition in the commercial wireless arena. And no one was claiming the D Block would be a major campaign issue for lawmakers seeking re-election in November.

In short, public safety seemed to lack the political base necessary to make a legitimate push for the D Block. But last week, this effort received a big boost when the “Big Seven” state and local governmental organizations — the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the International City/County Management Association — issued a letter asking for D Block reallocation for public safety.

This is a big deal, for several reasons. None of these organizations are pure public-safety groups, so the endorsement may carry more weight than it would have coming from another first-responder association, which might appear as self-serving to some on Capitol Hill. All of these organizations understand the “big picture” financial difficulties faced at the various levels of government.

Perhaps most importantly, most of these organizations represent elected officials on the state and local levels. The membership in these groups is fully aware of the value of voters; many of them may have worked — directly or indirectly — on campaigns for those currently in Congress. And many on Capitol Hill had been part of these organizations earlier in their political careers.

When so many state and local elected officials support an idea, federal lawmakers would be wise to pay attention. And, based on early reviews, that has happened, with public-safety officials getting calls for more information from congressional offices that had not shown much interest in the D Block debate previously.

Will this support from the state and local organizations be enough to turn the tide on the D Block issue? That’s still very questionable, as the lobbyists for the commercial wireless industry are very persuasive, and many in Congress have been calling for greater competition in the sector for years and believe auctioning the D Block is the way to inject a new player into the mix.

Without question, public safety still faces an uphill battle in its attempt to secure the D Block for its broadband use, but getting the “Big Seven” to support the cause is definitely a step in the right direction.

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