Senate approves E-911 funding bill
In its final action before adjourning for the year, the U.S. Senate last night passed a telecom-legislation package that included language for increased E-911 funding and the creation of a spectrum relocation trust fund.
Passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives before the Thanksgiving recess, the telecom package stalled in the Senate despite widespread support, primarily because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) refused to let the bill go to a vote unless his proposal for a national boxing commission was addressed.
The logjam reportedly broke when Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) assured McCain that his boxing legislation would be acted upon by next fall. The Senate then approved the measure as a matter of unanimous consent. The legislation will be sent to President George W. Bush to be signed into law.
Also awaiting Bush’s signature is intelligence-reform legislation, which the Senate passed by an 89-2 margin. That legislation includes a nonbinding “sense of Congress” resolution that calls for lawmakers to approve a comprehensive transition to digital television that would clear valuable 700 MHz spectrum for commercial and public-safety use.
Among the leaders in the last-minute negotiations was Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). For more than a year, Burns has sought passage of E-911 legislation that would appropriate $250 million to upgrade public-safety answering points (PSAPs) while helping ensure that E-911 funds collected from mobile-phone ratepayers is used for PSAP upgrades instead of other public-safety purposes. Late last night, Burns made a final plea to his colleagues to delay their adjournment until the measure could be passed.
“I think that’s about the best Christmas gift we could give to people who rely on emergency services,” Burns said on the floor.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials applauded the passage of the E-911 measure.
“We congratulate those public safety professionals who worked hard to get these bills passed,” APCO President Greg Ballentine said in a prepared statement. “We commit that APCO International will continue to monitor this through the appropriations process to ensure that the promised funding actually reaches public safety communications centers.”
The spectrum-relocation trust fund legislation is designed to encourage federal government agencies to use their spectrum more efficiently so airwaves can be cleared for commercial uses. Under the bill, agencies vacating spectrum will be reimbursed for the relocation costs from the proceeds of the auction for those airwaves.
This system is expected to result in the Department of Defense clearing the 1710-1755 band, which is expected to be auctioned for 3G services within a year.
The final component of the telecom package would exempt the universal-service fund from being subject to accounting procedures that caused the program’s support Internet access for schools and libraries to be halted for two months.