Bipartisan legislation that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum for public-safety use was introduced yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the House committee on homeland security, introduced the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2010, which would reallocate the D Block that the FCC plans to auction to commercial operators early next year under current law. Co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) — chairwoman of the emerging threats, cybersecurity and science and technology subcommittee — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), and Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.).

Public-safety officials have been anticipating the introduction of a D Block reallocation bill, so the D Block spectrum can be coupled with public-safety broadband airwaves licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to provide the spectral foundation for a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.

In its national broadband plan, the FCC recommended that the D Block be auctioned and that Congress provide $12 billion to $16 billion in funding for a public-safety network on the PSST spectrum. Public-safety users would be given priority access when roaming on commercial networks in the 700 MHz band under the plan, but many first-responder representatives have reservations whether that approach will be reliable enough for mission-critical communications.

Instead, all major national public-safety organizations have supported D Block reallocation for public safety, noting that having 20 MHz of spectrum would greatly reduce the need for roaming onto commercial networks and would give first-responder agencies greater flexibility to pursue partnerships with other governmental and critical-infrastructure entities.

“[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.”

Last week, the “Big 7” government 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 — sent letters to federal lawmakers to direct the FCC to cancel its mandate to auction the D Block to commercial operators.

Mirgon said support from these non-public-safety organizations is a “huge” boost to the first-responder reallocation effort.

“Clearly, I think we had a chance of this going forward without them, but it’s so much easier with their support,” he said. “I can’t even think of the words to say how important it is. … It magnifies our voice immensely, and it adds credibility to what we’ve said about the need for public safety.”

During a recent House hearing, some representatives expressed interest in offering legislation that would provide the funding needed for the proposed public-safety network. Mirgon said public safety would support both efforts.

“You can’t do one without the other,” Mirgon said. “However, like we’ve said, you have to have spectrum. And when the spectrum’s gone, it’s pretty much gone forever.”