Momentum continues to build around public safety’s effort to secure the 700 MHz D Block for a proposed nationwide first-responder broadband network with this week’s introduction of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would reallocate the spectrum — now scheduled to be auctioned to commercial users — to public safety.

The existence of the bill takes the debate on the D Block in Congress—which has to pass a new law to stop the airwaves from being auctioned—from a theoretical discussion to one with substance, because there is legislation that can be the subject of a vote on the matter. The fact that the legislation has bipartisan support from co-sponsors is another plus for public safety.

Coming on the heels of support from the “Big 7” national organizations last week, tangible progress toward D Block reallocation to public safety is being made.

“[FCC officials’] position has been that there is no support [for D Block reallocation] on Capitol Hill,” said Richard Mirgon, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). “I think this sends a different message. I think this does show them that there is support on Capitol Hill.”

Of course, introducing legislation and getting it passed are very different things. As a spectrum bill, the legislation will need to pass through the House energy and commerce committee, and the influential senior members of that committee are not among the five co-sponsors of the D Block reallocation legislation.

In addition, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) was the one national public-safety organization that did not publicly endorse the legislation. Critics might see this as a sign that public safety’s solidarity may be faltering, but Patrick Halley — NENA’s government affair director — said the organization does not oppose D Block reallocation. Instead, NENA simply is reiterating its longstanding policy that the spectrum must be accompanied with funding for the public-safety network.

“We can’t support the bill in its current form, since it doesn’t address funding … in addition to the spectrum issue, we believe funding is equally important,” Halley said. “But we look forward to working with members on that bill or any other legislation that would also address the funding issue.”

Speaking of funding, multiple Beltway sources say there is speculation that legislation could be introduced within the next week or two that would address a least a portion of the $6.5 billion that the FCC estimates is needed to build the public-safety broadband network. Such a bill would not be surprising, as Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, said last month they were working on such an initiative.

Will the funding bill become reality? If so, will it take precedence over the D Block reallocation bill? Could the two pieces of legislation be combined? And will parallel legislation be introduced in the Senate?

My crystal ball is not nearly good enough to even pretend to answer any of these questions. But having D Block reallocation legislation introduced that is supported by public safety and by most state and local governmental associations should be enough for the matter to warrant serious consideration on Capitol Hill, which is where the debate needs to happen.

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