Influential Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) late last month introduced legislation that would reallocate 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety and provide a funding source for the deployment of mobile broadband networks for first responders nationwide.

Rockefeller’s bill is “identical” to the legislation the veteran West Virginia senator — chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee — introduced last year that would remove the possibility of the D Block being auctioned to commercial carriers, as current law dictates, said Yucel Ors, director of legislative affairs for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

“It’s basically to get the bill introduced and move forward from where we left off last year … and getting the momentum rolling,” Ors said during an interview.

A key feature of Rockefeller’s legislation is the dedication of more than $10 billion in proceeds from future spectrum auctions — money that normally would go into the U.S. Treasury — to fund grant programs that would help public-safety entities pay for the deployment of first-responder LTE networks. Without such federal funding, many industry observers question whether cash-strapped state and local governments can afford to pursue widespread buildouts of LTE networks.

As was the case last year, Rockefeller’s bill is being co-sponsored by five Democratic senators — Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Benjamin Cardin (Md.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) — and additional co-sponsors are expected in the near future, Ors said.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) also introduced a separate bill last year that would reallocate the D Block to public safety, and included a projected $11 billion in funding from future commercial spectrum auctions.

During the week of Feb. 7, the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) — a coalition of key public-safety and government organizations, including APCO — is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill in an effort to convince federal lawmakers to support D Block reallocation and funding for first-responder broadband networks.

“As we near the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when more than 400 first responders and nearly 3,000 innocent civilians lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, we cannot overstate the fact that our nation is still struggling mightily to begin implementing solutions to the communications challenges we faced that day,” Charles Dowd, New York City Police Department’s deputy chief of communications, said in a statement. “The allocation of the D-Block spectrum with significant federal funding is critical, not only to solving the communication problems of September 11, 2001, but also many of the communications issues since.”

Ors said he believes that D Block legislation in the House will be introduced early next month, possibly during the week PSA is on Capitol Hill.

While most public-safety and government organizations support reallocation of the D Block — a position also supported by Verizon and AT&T, which are the two carriers that have considerable spectrum holdings in the 700 MHz band — other carriers have been joined by two public-safety organizations—the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters — in lobbying for a D Block auction.