Powerful Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) last week participated in a rally conducted by a coalition of public-safety organizations in Washington, D.C., to help convince Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum for first-responder use in a nationwide wireless broadband network.

McCain and Lieberman have co-sponsored legislation that would reallocate the D Block to public safety and direct $11 billion in proceeds from commercial spectrum auctions to the deployment and maintenance of the proposed public-safety network.

“As it stands now, the mobile device the average teenager in American carries has more capability than the mobile device the average first responder in America — who puts his or her life on the line for each of us — carries,” Lieberman said during the event hosted by the Public Safety Alliance. “That is just unacceptable and wrong. We’re here to turn that around.”

The FCC’s national broadband plan calls for the D Block to be auctioned to commercial users. Under the FCC plan, if public-safety users in an area need more than the 10 MHz of 700 MHz broadband licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), the first-responders would be able to roam onto commercial networks in the 700 MHz band.

But public-safety officials have expressed concern that such an arrangement would not be effective, because commercial networks often are unavailable at the same time first responders need them most. Lieberman echoed this sentiment.

“In a crisis, we want our first responders to come first, to know that they have secure, reliable and quick communications that will never disrupted by commercial traffic,” he said.

McCain noted that the 9/11 Commission called for additional spectrum to be allocated for public-safety use.

“Literally every recommendation of the 9/11 Commission — with the exception of that one—has been implemented, in one way or another, by the federal government or by legislation. It’s outrageous that, to this day, federal and local agencies are unable to communicate with each other in a matter of national emergencies.

“Let’s complete the work of the 9/11 Commission.”

Rob Davis, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he respects and understands the desire for commercial wireless operators to have the D Block auctioned, but the public-safety need for these particular frequencies would be a greater use of the spectrum.

“While it’s important that people can text their vote to American Idol, it’s more important that police, fire and others can communicate with each other during a disaster,” Davis said. “That’s what this is about — American public safety.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, separately announced plans to introduce similar legislation as the McCain-Lieberman bill, but his proposal calls for the use of incentive auctions designed to encourage incumbent commercial users to vacate spectrum in return for a portion of the proceeds realized from the auction of the airwaves.

In addition, a bill that would reallocate the D Block to public safety has been gaining momentum in the House of Representatives. PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said the legislation now has at least 57 co-sponsors.