Senate committee to work on D Block bill this week
Bipartisan legislation that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety and provide a funding mechanism to pay for a significant portion of proposed LTE networks for first responders is among the proposals that will be the subject of a Senate Commerce Committee markup session this week.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) have been working on the details of the legislation for weeks and recently reached agreement on the language for the bill, according to Beltway sources. Earlier this year, Rockefeller introduced legislation that would reallocate the D Block to public safety, but the bill that will be discussed during Wednesday’s markup session takes a more comprehensive approach to the overall spectrum landscape.
According to a draft of the bill, the 700 MHz D Block would be reallocated to public safety, which would pair the spectrum with broadband airwaves currently licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to serve as the spectral foundation of first-responder LTE networks throughout the nation. The legislation also calls for Congress to appropriate $12 billion for network deployments and $500 million to fund public-safety-specific research on wireless broadband technologies.
This federal funding would be generated from the proceeds of FCC spectrum auctions, including the sale of at least 55 MHz of federal government airwaves below 3 GHz, 100 MHz of federal spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, and spectrum cleared voluntarily for incentive auctions.
In addition to funding the buildout of the proposed public-safety network, the auctions are expected to generate enough revenue to reimburse incumbent licensees and provide an estimated $10 billion to the U.S. Treasury that will be used to reduce the national deficit.
Another provision of the proposed legislation would create a “Public Safety Broadband Corporation” (PSBC) that would serve as the spectrum licensee and governing body to help ensure interoperability between users of the broadband networks. The PSBC would replace the PSST as the licensee for public safety’s 700 MHz broadband spectrum.
PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said he would support such a spectrum-license transfer, if the legislation includes provisions to ensure a smooth transition.
“In general, I don’t think it’s wrong,” McEwen said. “In order for an organization to have governance over the buildout of this, including significant authority to manage the funds that are necessary, we accept the fact that some new organization probably needs to be authorized by the government.”
Several Beltway sources expressed optimism that the Senate would pass the a version of the proposed legislation, but the notion of D Block reallocation and funding is expected to receive significantly more opposition in the House, where several members have questioned the fiscal wisdom of embarking on such an initiative during a difficult budgetary period for the federal government.