Capitol Hill sharpens focus on 700 MHz D Block debate
As a House subcommittee prepares to conduct a hearing tomorrow regarding the creation of an interoperable public-safety communications network, new legislation regarding the subject has been introduced in the Senate, which is expected to mark up a bill regarding 700 MHz D Block reallocation in two weeks.
Tomorrow’s Communications and Technology subcommittee hearing will begin at 10:30 a.m. EST. Although previously announced, the committee recently released a list of panelists that will participate, including representatives from the Public Safety Alliance, commercial carrier U.S. Cellular, amateur-radio association ARRL, a wireless-communications consultant and two large public-safety-communications vendors — Motorola Solutions and Harris RF.
According to a background memorandum on the House Energy and Commerce Committee website, lawmakers will seek answers to numerous questions, including why first responders do not have interoperable voice communications after more than $13 billion and almost 100 MHz of spectrum have been allocated to public safety. In addition, participants are expected to explore public/private partnership options, the viability of transitioning public-safety 700 MHz narrowband spectrum to broadband use, and cost estimates for deploying and maintaining a proposed nationwide LTE network.
Most Beltway sources believe public safety’s push for D Block reallocation — the spectrum is supposed to be auctioned to commercial operators under current law — will face more opposition in the House than in the Senate. The House is controlled by Republicans, many of who were elected last year after promising to reduce federal spending and the nation’s massive deficit.
Reallocating the D Block to public safety would increase the federal deficit by about $3 billion — the amount of money commercial operators would be projected to bid if the spectrum were auctioned — “at a time when neither our Committee nor the Congress has a penny to spare,” according to the hearing memorandum.
Lawmakers should focus on the future benefits that reallocation could provide to secure the safety of its citizens, said Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), which holds the spectrum license for public safety’s current 10 MHz swath of 700 MHz broadband spectrum.
“This is not a giveaway,” McEwen said of the reallocation proposal during an interview. “This is an investment in the future of America.”
In the Senate, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) recently introduced a bill that would reallocate the D Block to public safety, as the duo did last year. Earlier this year, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) offered legislation that called for D Block reallocation, funding for network deployment and a provision that would give the FCC the authority to conduct incentive spectrum auctions.
Several new reports last week indicated that the Senate Commerce Committee — chaired by Rockefeller — would mark up legislation this week in preparation for a vote. However, that markup session is now expected to occur on June 8, according to Beltway sources.