Near-term D Block debate focused on the Super Committee
Working through the deficit-focused Super Committee may be the only hope of Congress reallocating the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to first responders and providing funding for the deployment of a nationwide LTE network for public safety before the end of the year.
“We clearly hear what’s being said, that all eyes are on the Super Committee,” said Sean Kirkendall, spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance.
Public-safety organizations continue to encourage members of the Senate to vote on S.911 — a bill passed by the Senate Commerce Committee — and work with House members to push similar legislation that would reallocate the D Block and include billions of dollars in funding for the proposed network, Kirkendall said. However, these standalone bills have taken less priority than the deficit-reduction efforts of the Super Committee, he said.
“The reality is that there’s only so much time in a day, and a lot of [Congress members’] time is being consumed by the Super Committee,” Kirkendall said. “And a lot of their hopes and aspirations also are being directed toward the Super Committee right now.”
This sentiment was reinforced this week, when Rep. Greg Walden — chairman of the relevant House subcommittee that would consider D Block reallocation — said he would not introduce spectrum-policy legislation until after the Super Committee has acted.
Many Beltway source believe spectrum-policy language that would renew the FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions and potentially reallocate the D Block will be considered by the Super Committee, because spectrum auctions represent a way to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the U.S. Treasury without raising taxes — for instance, S.911 would provide $6.5 billion in deficit-reduction funds. One fear for public-safety officials is that Congress would renew the FCC’s auction authority but not consider D Block reallocation, Kirkendall said.
“Quite frankly, the thing that we’ve been concerned about is that they would approve incentive auctions but then not deal with the D Block or funding for the public-safety broadband network,” he said. “As soon as they started talking about the Super Committee and a debt deal, that was always the concern. We know they want to get funding for deficit reduction.”
Super Committee members are supposed to propose legislation that would reduce the national deficit by at least $1.2 trillion during the next decade by Nov. 23, so both houses of Congress can vote on the legislation by Dec. 23, Kirkendall said. There is some speculation that the Super Committee could ask for a time extension, but such an extension would mean pushing the process into early 2012, he said.
If D Block reallocation and LTE network funding is included in the Super Committee legislation, most Beltway sources believe the delay would not be a significant problem. However, if such language is not part of the Super Committee’s action, many believe getting standalone bills passed in the House and Senate during the 2012 election year promises to be challenging, because lawmakers will be focused on re-election efforts.
“I think it gets harder as we get into 2012, because it’s a full campaign year.” Kirkendall said.