Napolitano: Public safety will get the D Block
Efforts to have D Block spectrum in the 700 MHz band reallocated for public-safety broadband use continue to gather momentum, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying reallocation of the airwaves will occur and an additional first-responder organization expressing its support.
“As [President Barack Obama] suggested in his State of the Union address, the so-called D Block of communications spectrum will be set aside for public safety, and we will work with first responders on the standards and requirements for interoperability of vital communications equipment during times of crisis,” Napolitano said during a speech last week at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
During the State of the Union last Tuesday, Obama expressed support for government support of infrastructure that would enable firefighters to “download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device” but did not specify the D Block or funding.
However, hours before the State of the Union, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and Napolitano told public-safety officials during a conference call that the White House supports reallocation of the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and funding via future spectrum-auction proceeds to help pay for first-responder LTE network deployments.
Most public-safety and government organizations have backed reallocation of the D Block to public safety, so first responders would have 20 MHz of contiguous 700 MHz broadband spectrum to support deployment of LTE networks nationwide. Under current law, the FCC is required to auction the D Block to commercial operators, but the agency has not initiated any auction efforts to date.
Despite Napolitano’s declarative statement, the fate of the D Block will be decided by Congress. In the Senate, public safety has the support of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that must consider a D Block reallocation bill. Rockefeller and five Democratic co-sponsors reintroduced D Block reallocation legislation this week. In addition, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) last year introduced similar legislation with a slightly different funding mechanism.
Most Beltway sources believe the bigger resistance will come in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, most of whom were elected in November while promising to halt big government spending and reduce the federal deficit.
Last year, about 80 House members co-sponsored legislation that would reallocate the D Block to public safety. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is expected to reintroduce his bill in the near future, according to Capitol Hill sources.
Meanwhile, there is greater solidarity on the matter within public safety.
For the past several months, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) have supported efforts by Public Safety Now — an organization of wireless carriers other than AT&T and Verizon that previously was known as the 4G Coalition — to have the FCC auction the D Block and use the proceeds to help pay for deployment of public-safety LTE networks.
But FOP President Chuck Canterbury on Friday pledged to work with the Obama Administration to develop and pass legislation to reallocate the D Block to public safety.
“The foremost concern going forward for the FOP and our friends at the IAFF was that rural and smaller agencies would be left without the resources to build out a network on the allotted spectrum or that they would be forced to deal with a single carrier,” Canterbury said in a prepared statement. “With [Biden’s] help, these issues have been fully addressed and I have personally thanked him for his efforts.”