Committee leaders express support for D Block reallocation
Several House and Senate leaders have recommended reallocation of the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety in their letters advising the Super Committee on possible methods to reduce the national deficit, while a House committee took voted to include D Block reallocation in an authorization bill.
Committee leaders on Capitol Hill were supposed to submit their deficit-reduction recommendations to the Super Committee last week. Recommendations to reallocate the D Block — airwaves adjacent to public safety’s broadband spectrum that will be used for first-responder LTE networks — to public safety have been part of broader spectrum policies that are projected to generate several billion dollars for the U.S. Treasury via commercial auctions.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote a joint letter to the Super Committee that called for authorization of incentive auctions, reallocation of the D Block to public safety and funding a nationwide, interoperable broadband public-safety network.
Lieberman long has been a proponent of D Block reallocation to first responders, having co-sponsored bills on the matter in each of the last two sessions. However, the letter marked the first time Collins has expressed support publicly for reallocating the D Block to public safety, according to Sean Kirkendall, a spokesman for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
“We had clear indications of support from her before, but we welcome her formal support as part of this letter,” Kirkendall said.
Meanwhile, the House Homeland Security Committee — chaired by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation that would reallocate the D Block to public safety in each of the last two sessions — was even more formal in its support. While crafting the authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an amendment calling for D Block reallocation was included and approved by the committee, Kirkendall said.
“So it’s passed out of committee as part of the DHS authorization bill,” he said. “Now, the downside of that is that we won’t be surprised if the House Energy and Commerce Committee comes back and says that it’s not in [the Homeland Security Committee’s] jurisdiction.”
Indeed, many political pundits believe that D Block reallocation falls under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Committees in both houses of Congress. The Senate Commerce Committee this summer voted overwhelming to approve S.911, a bill that would reallocate the D Block to public safety, provide funding for a nationwide network buildout and would generate $6.5 billion for deficit reduction, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Last week, S.911 co-sponsors Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) — the Senate Commerce Committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively — reiterated their positions about D Block reallocation and expressed interest in making their legislative proposal more appealing to the Super Committee.
“We stand ready to work with the Joint Select Committee on possible ways to amend S.911 to provide $10 billion in deficit reduction, without compromising rural buildout [of the proposed LTE network] for public-safety officials,” Rockefeller and Hutchison wrote in the joint letter to the Super Committee.
With these committees and the Obama Administration supporting D Block reallocation to public safety, first-responder representatives are focused on the House Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a member of the Super Committee.
Earlier this month, the relevant subcommittee was expected to consider legislation from Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has been outspoken in his belief that the D Block should be auctioned to commercial operators, as mandated under current law. However, Walden chose to delay the introduction of his legislation, possibly until the end of the year.
Kirkendall said he hopes Congress will take action on the D Block soon, so the issue does not get entangled in campaign rhetoric in preparation for the 2012 elections.
“Our message has increasingly been, ‘It’s really time to state your position on the issue [D Block reallocation],” Kirkendall said. “It’s past time to continue to have conversation. It’s past time to say you’re considering it. It’s really become time to take a position. You’re either for it or against it.
“The closer we get to next year, the worse it’s going to be, in terms of the politics of it. Everybody’s going to start having an eye on next year’s elections. That’s why we need to get this done this year.”