D Block legislation future unclear
Congress is scheduled to return to work today amid reports of growing support on Capitol Hill for legislation that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety, but the path for getting such language enacted is uncertain, according to first-responder representatives.
Most public-safety officials have expressed support for S.911, a bill that passed the Senate Commerce Committee but has not been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate. Some Beltway sources say there is some sentiment on Capitol Hill to take the key components of S.911 — D Block reallocation and about $10 billion in funding for a new LTE network for public safety — and include the language in a jobs bill or legislative action taken by the Super Committee that is tasked with creating deficit-reduction actions.
“Because there seems to be differing views on how to deal with it between the two houses and the two parties, I don’t feel a strong direction one way or another,” former Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials President Richard Mirgon said. “The positive side is that they’re still they’re still talking about positively and moving it forward. The downside is that that there seems to be no clear direction on how to do it.”
While the notion of D Block reallocation been voted on in the Senate Commerce Committee, it not been the subject of a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. However, many Beltway sources indicate that Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) — chairman of relevant subcommittee — could introduce his much-anticipated legislation on the issue as early as this week.
Walden has expressed support for auctioning the D Block to commercial operators, but public-safety officials are still looking forward to his legislation being introduced, so debate on the matter can proceed, said Charles Dowd, a deputy chief for the New York Police Department.
“I’m kind of hopeful that, in the relatively near future, something could get introduced to get this issue out in front of the committee, so we can at least start to get the ball rolling and moving in the right direction,” Dowd said. “Not having anything is not a good idea. Even if something gets introduced that’s not exactly the way we want it, we can always try to get it changed through negotiation.”
As the issue of the D Block continues to linger, there is a growing sentiment that politics related to the 2012 elections will become a factor.
“I think it’s already a factor,” Mirgon said. “I think there’s a number of people that would like to see it happen a little further out, so they can use it in a positive fashion for the election. However, at the end of the day, the folks from the Hill will make their position in support of public safety pretty clear, depending on what they do with this.
“They’ve clearly missed the opportunity of [passing legislation by the 10th anniversary of] 9/11. However, it is still the right thing to do and they must continue to do it. The irony is that, the longer this goes on, the more supporters we pick up — that’s been the absolute reality of it.”