House approves D Block reallocation, spectrum giveback
House members yesterday voted 234-193 to approve payroll-tax legislation with language to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety and provide at least $5 billion in funding for the buildout of a nationwide LTE network for first responders, but the measure is expected to face stiff opposition in the Senate.
Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly pronounced the House bill as “dead on arrival” in the Senate, primarily because the House payroll-tax legislation included a stipulation to accelerate a regulatory decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — a $7 billion project extending from Canada to Texas that Republicans say would generate 20,000 jobs but is the subject of environmental concerns for many Democrats. The Senate could consider the House bill as early as today, according to media reports.
During yesterday’s debate on the House floor, several Democrats noted that President Barack Obama has vowed to veto a bill with the Keystone XL language in it. While the inclusion of the pipeline language was the primary point of disagreement during the House debate, the primary purpose of the bill is extend the payroll-tax cut and unemployment benefits — provisions that both Republicans and Democrats labeled as “must-pass” legislation that needs to be completed before Congress recesses for its Christmas break.
Public-safety communications language in the bill is similar to the legislation approved by a House subcommittee last week, according to Beltway sources and media reports. Sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), that bill calls for the D Block to be reallocated to public safety and would provide $5 billion to $6.5 billion in funding for the deployment of a dedicated nationwide LTE network for first responders.
Walden noted that the spectrum policies in the bill could create between 300,000 to 700,000 jobs and have been the subject of five hearings.
“At some point, the American people say, ‘Stop talking. Get it done,'” Walden said during the House floor debate. “And that’s what this legislation does as part of this bigger bill.”
While the D Block and funding are key components to the nationwide-network vision that first responders support, the Walden legislation calls for public safety to return its 700 MHz narrowband spectrum to the FCC in the future and has a governance model that has been questioned by many public-safety representatives.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) expressed support for the bill including funding for next-generation 911 deployment but said she is concerned about the spectrum-giveback provision, stating, “I don’t believe it’s fair to public safety and our country.”
In terms of governance, the House bill calls for each of the 50 states to develop their own LTE strategies under the supervision of a national administrator — an arrangement similar to the one used for 800 MHz rebanding. Proponents claim this administrator model would be better, because of the lessons learned from that experience, but many in public safety believe rebanding demonstrated that the administrator model should not be used again.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) cited governance as one of “many shortcomings” in the public-safety portion of the bill.
Beltway sources and news reports indicate that Reid has tied an omnibus budget deal — agreed to by House and Senate conferees — to enactment of payroll-tax legislation. If the budget deal is not passed, Congress would have to issue a continuing budget resolution, or the government will shut down on Friday.