Seven state and local government organizations yesterday asked Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block for the proposed nationwide broadband network for first responders.

Signed by 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 — the letter ask federal lawmakers to direct the FCC to cancel its mandate to auction the D Block to commercial operators.

Public-safety organizations have been seeking a D Block reallocation, so the airwaves can be used with adjacent public-safety broadband spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to form the spectral foundation for a public-safety broadband network.

“Allocating the D Block directly to public safety is the only way to ensure a robust, modern and reliable nationwide interoperable network,” the letter states. “While the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan proposes to provide public safety roaming and priority access on other commercial 700 MHz networks for a fee, this proposal relies on untested technologies and new regulations that cannot ensure reliable and resilient communications capabilities to meet stringent public-safety needs.”

In the national broadband plan, the FCC recommends auctioning the D Block early next year, citing the need for more spectrum for commercial mobile services. Public-safety officials believe the D Block would be better utilized for first-responder communications, noting that having 20 MHz would allow for a more efficient network and partnerships with other critical-infrastructure partners — other government agencies, utilities and transportation authorities, for example — that could not be considered on the PSST’s spectrum.

“We follow the first responders’ communications issues closely, because, first and foremost, governors are responsible for the safety and security of their citizens,” said Heather Hogsett, the National Governors Association’s director of homeland security and public safety. “It’s critical that whatever happens … ultimately meets the needs of public-safety officials … There is a great deal of concern that what the FCC has proposed will not, in the end, fulfill the needs that exist for public-safety communications.”

While public-safety officials have maintained efforts to convince Capitol Hill to reallocate the D Block, many Beltway insiders doubted whether lawmakers would do so without a supporting recommendation from the FCC, the federal government’s expert agency on spectrum matters. Such widespread support from non-public-safety organizations is expected to help first responders make their case for the spectrum in Congress.

“I think it’s nothing short of being huge,” said Charles Werner, fire chief for Charlottesville, Va. “These are the people that we work with — state and local — and have national organizations. For them to echo the message by the consensus group is a telling story that [reallocating the D Block] makes sense, it’s what we need and we need it now.”

Updated 04/16/2010