Subcommittee broaches idea of federal funding for 700 MHz network
A congressional subcommittee today identified funding as the primary challenge to making a nationwide broadband network for public safety a reality, with some elected officials suggesting that the federal government may need to provide money for the project.
During a hearing conducted by the U.S. House subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, representatives of the public-safety community and the commercial sector testified on the recent developments in the efforts to create a nationwide broadband network for first-responder agencies. More than a year ago, the FCC’s public-private partnership plan failed when no commercial operator made a qualifying bid on the 700 MHz D Block with the understanding that it would have to negotiate a deal with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), the licensee of the adjacent 10 MHz of public-safety broadband spectrum.
Since then, several proposals have been made to address the situation, including tweaking the public-private-partnership model, allocating the 10 MHz D Block to public safety, and auctioning the D Block and the PSST spectrum to commercial entities and using the proceeds to fund the public-safety network.
But subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) expressed doubt that any of the proposals are viable by themselves. As several elected officials and hearing panelists noted, the expected proceeds for any auction likely would be well shy of the amount of money needed to build a nationwide network, and simply granting additional spectrum to public safety would not help resolve the funding situation.
Boucher said he believes another source of revenue would be needed, noting that he’s “looking at some kind of general-fund revenue [for the project] … I don’t know of another way.”
Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) echoed this sentiment.
“We’ve got to get the revenue from somewhere, and perhaps general revenue is where we should look,” Stearns said during the hearing.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he believe the proposal adopted for a nationwide broadband network should ensure that the network is built quickly, provide service to all areas of the country and avoid distorting the commercial marketplace.
Regardless how the sticky issues of getting the broadband network built and funded is accomplished, subcommittee members — many of whom noted that it has been eight years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 underscored the need for interoperable communications — expressed a sense of urgency that the network be built.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said public sentiment for such an effort has waned, as memories of the communication issues associated with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina fade, but a repeat of those situations would not be tolerated.
“We can’t sustain another failure in communication in a major disaster,” Shimkus said. “Unless we get the D Block right, that’s what we’re going to have.”
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) agreed.
“We need to get on with this,” she said.