Staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee is drafting a bill that would let public-safety agencies continue to utilize T-Band spectrum but would have the FCC conduct an incentive auction for the 50 MHz of 4.9 GHz spectrum currently dedicated for public-safety use.

Ralph Haller, chairman of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) governing board, said the move to include 4.9 GHz auction language in a draft bill was not anticipated.

“We were surprised,” Haller said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We had no indication ahead of time that anything like this was in the works. We knew that there was interest in preserving the T-Band, but the 4.9 [GHz] thing was completely unexpected.”

NPSTC’s governing board is reviewing the proposal, which was unveiled to organization representatives recently by Commerce Committee staff, Haller said.

“The governing board is considering what position that we should take,” he said. “I can’t really comment on what that position is likely to look like at this point, but we are actively considering the proposal and will probably have a response back to the Hill sometime next week.”

Haller said that the draft bill has not been formally introduced yet, and he does not know which lawmakers would sponsor the proposed measure.

If introduced, the proposal would mark the second significant attempt within the federal government to revisit usage of the 4.9 GHz band by public safety. In March, FCC commissioners voted to initiate a proceeding to explore alternative uses for the 4.9 GHz band—50 MHz, from 4940 MHz to 4990 MHz—which several commissioners said is being underutilized.

In that proceeding, the commission asks commenters to express their opinions about numerous possibilities, including shared access to the 4.9 GHz band or reallocation of the airwave swath for commercial use. Comments in the FCC proceeding are due on July 6, and reply comments are due on Aug. 6.

Although it is unclear which choice that FCC commissioners will make about the 4.9 GHz band, changes to the current policy are expected, according to David Furth, deputy bureau chief for the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB).

“The reason that all of these options are on the table is that the one option that the commission is not willing to consider is allowing underutilization of the band to continue,” Furth said during a recent NPSTC meeting.

In an incentive-auction format, spectrum is not licensed to auction winners unless the total amount of bid revenues exceeds the cost to conduct the auction and relocate incumbent users.

As part of the 2012 legislation that established FirstNet and gave the organization a license to 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum, Congress called for public-safety agencies to vacate T-Band spectrum—470 MHz to 512 MHz. According to the FCC, public safety is used by public safety only in 11 metropolitan markets: Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco/Oakland and Washington, D.C.