D Block efforts showing tangible dividends
Sometimes, a day can make a big difference. For public-safety officials wanting the 700 MHz D Block to be reallocated for a nationwide, broadband wireless network for first responders, yesterday was one of those days.
On Tuesday night, the idea of D Block reallocation appeared to be a long shot to outsiders. After all, the expert agency — the FCC — was adamant that public safety did not need the D Block and said it would conduct an auction early next year. There was a bill in the House that was gathering some support, but the key subcommittee and committee chairmen both expressed support for auctioning the spectrum for commercial purposes. And there was little public mention of the subject in the Senate, much less enabling legislation.
By the time public-safety officials completed a mini-demonstration and met with more lawmakers yesterday, three high-profile senators — including the chairmen of the two key committees — announced two similar bills calling for D Block reallocations and plans to dedicate substantial revenues from future spectrum auction to build and maintain the proposed network. On the House side, more than 10% of the membership is now co-sponsoring the D Block bill and Beltway sources indicate that figure could double in the near future.
Meanwhile, the FCC was decidedly less outspoken about its D Block stance, with officials stating only that the reallocation decision rests with Congress and that it was too early to decide whether to efforts to establish rules for the scheduled auction would need to be delayed — or cancelled entirely.
For months, many pundits in our nation’s capital have insisted that politics realistically would allow public safety to secure either the D Block spectrum or funding for the first-responder broadband network, but not both. However, public-safety organizations have put up a united front regarding the matter, remaining insistent that both the D Block spectrum and funding are needed to make the network effective for responders. And, for the first time, it looks like it might happen.
But this was not just public safety making the case, with the support of interested carriers and vendors. A key endorsement came from the so-called “Big 7” organizations representing state and local government officials. Instead of this being just a public-safety.
“It’s very unusual to get the Big 7 to agree on anything,” said Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). “The fact that they are all unified behind us and the fact that public safety is unified … is what is making this a success.”
What makes this massive coalition especially remarkable is that public-safety officials were busy bickering among themselves about the proposed broadband network as recently as 16 months ago.
Mind you, this is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. Current law still states that the FCC must auction the D Block, so Congress will need to pass a law to change that, which could take some time. In the meantime, having key lawmakers direct the FCC to halt plans to auction the D Block would be welcome news to the first-responder community. But, if reallocation legislation reaches a vote, I like its chances of passing, because no elected official wants to be on record as opposing public safety, particularly on a high-profile issue such as this.
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