Key House subcommittee to debate D Block proposals on Thursday
Members of the House subcommittee of jurisdiction on Thursday will discuss separate proposals calling for the reallocation of 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety and billions of dollars in federal funds to pay for the deployment of a nationwide LTE network for first responders.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of House communications subcommittee, has released draft legislation that calls for D Block reallocation and at least $5 billion in funding for the network buildout, according to Sean Kirkendall, a spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance. This proposal will be the subject of a markup hearing on Thursday morning.
“This bill fulfills tandem spectrum needs,” Walden said in a prepared statement. “It will help satisfy the public appetite for commercial broadband and free up additional spectrum for our nation’s first responders to build an interoperable public safety network. After months of discussion, the [draft legislation] strikes a fine balance by reallocating the D Block from commercial to public safety use and providing up to $6.5 billion to help build the interoperable broadband network.”
Many Beltway sources expressed surprise at Walden’s draft-legislation language, as he previously had been outspoken in his belief that the D Block should be auctioned to commercial operators. However, unlike most other D Block proposals, the Walden draft legislation calls for public safety to relinquish its 700 MHz narrowband spectrum five years after mission-critical broadband voice is deemed to be a viable option, Kirkendall said.
Despite such concerns, the scheduled markup means the D Block issue will be debated by the key subcommittee for the purpose of taking action. Even if public safety has issues with some of the language in the Walden draft legislation, getting to this stage is encouraging, according to Richard Mirgon, former president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
“We’re glad they’re finally taking up the committee to discuss it, and we’re moving the ball forward,” Mirgon said. “Overall, it is clearly a positive thing.”
In addition to Walden releasing draft legislation, leading Democrats — Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Subcommittee of Communications and Technology — also have introduced legislation that includes D Block reallocation and funding but does not call for the 700 MHz narrowband giveback, Kirkendall said.
“We strongly support the efforts of Congressman Waxman and Congresswoman Eshoo to move legislation forward in the committee of jurisdiction,” PSA spokesman Chris Moore, chief of police in San Jose, Calif., said in a prepared statement. “On behalf of the more than 2 million first responders nationwide, the Public Safety Alliance thanks both of them for their leadership on this critical issue.”
With D Block reallocation and funding supported by the White House, the Senate Commerce Committee, the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, getting such a proposal through the House Commerce Committee has been viewed by many Beltway sources as the key hurdle to making the 700 MHz nationwide network a reality. If Walden’s subcommittee approves legislation on Thursday, it would be sent to the House Commerce Committee.