Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Witt held a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday in which he supported Congress' plan to auction 700 MHz D Block instead of reallocating it toward the nationwide broadband network for first responders. Witt spoke on behalf of Connect Public Safety Now, a coalition that includes two of the largest public-safety organizations — the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters.

“When I was director of FEMA, the absence of interoperable public-safety networks hampered first responders' work at the sites of such tragedies as the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, as well as the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado,” he said during the meeting. “The problem has not been technology. Instead it's a problem of political will and unfortunate and unproductive turf battles. Now, we all agree that the nation's first responders need and deserve a best-of-class, advanced wireless broadband network. For the first time, we have a way forward and we would be wise to take it.”

Witt said public-spectrum auctions have been a successful enterprise, raising billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury and unleashing innovation and investment in the wireless space. The plan for the D Block auction addresses this challenge for the next generation of public safety communications. However, he said the Public Safety Alliance's approach, which has been on the table for the last decade, simply reallocates the D Block directly to public safety, leaving them without any of the tools or money to build the network.

“Giving the spectrum away would result in a loss of roughly $3 billion that would be generated from publicly auctioning it — money that would be used to support the construction and operation of the network,” Witt said during the meeting. “Without these funds, we'd have to get it from the Federal Treasury — which is already under towering debt — or from state and local government budgets that are already crippled.”

Witt added that the National Broadband Plan, supported by the 9/11 Commission, the FCC, many in Congress and by Connect Public Safety Now, leverages the unequivocal success of public auctions, making the D Block available for public auction to commercial carriers — the very companies already building advanced wireless broadband networks across the country.

Connect Public Safety Now, formerly the Coalition for 4G in America, includes approximately 648,000 current and former public safety officials as well as T-Mobile, Sprint, RCARural Telecommunications Group, Metro PCS, Triad Communication, Cellular South, Xanadoo and AccessSpectrum. It also includes consumer and public-interest groups, such as the Media Access Project and the New America Foundation.

It does not include the Big 7 public-safety organizations or carriers Verizon and AT&T, all of which are members of the Public Safety Alliance.