Public safety prepares for 700 MHz push on Capitol Hill
Public-safety representatives are meeting this week to plan educational meetings with key members of Congress, which is scheduled to return to action next week and potentially could enact legislation that would provide spectrum and funding for a much-anticipated nationwide broadband network for first responders.
Such legislation could be attached to a bill that would extend the payroll-tax cut for a full year. Prior to recessing before Christmas, lawmakers were unable to agree on a comprehensive, full-year extension of the payroll-tax cut and opted for a two-month extension. Now, Capitol Hill will work toward a full-year extension by Feb. 29 to ensure that the payroll-tax cut — a measure supported by both Democrats and Republicans — does not lapse.
A comprehensive bill is expected to include language addressing several issues. For instance, spectrum-policy language would renew the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum and generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury. Provisions calling for the 700 MHz D Block to be reallocated to public safety and for billions of dollars in funding to be provided for the buildout of a nationwide public-safety broadband network could be included in the spectrum-policy language.
These two public-safety priorities appear to have realistic chances of passage. In December, the House passed legislation that would reallocate the D Block and provide at least $5 billion in funding. Last summer, the Senate Commerce Committee overwhelmingly supported S.911, which calls for D Block reallocation and $12 billion in funding for the network.
“The House and Senate Democrats, as well as Senate Republicans, have said they want spectrum legislation to be in the year-long payroll conversation,” Sean Kirkendall, spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance, said during an interview. “So it’s really negotiating the differences.”
Such negotiations will be concentrated around the 20 conferees appointed by the leadership in the House and Senate to strike a deal on a comprehensive bill that would extend the payroll-tax cut.
“Congress came along way in 2011 toward crafting comprehensive spectrum legislation, to include establishing widespread bicameral and bipartisan support for allocating spectrum and funding toward a nationwide public-safety broadband network,” San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore said in a prepared statement. “It is well within Congress’s reach to finally conclude this top legislative priority for public safety, state and local governments, critical infrastructure, and our nation’s domestic security for decades to come.”
Al Gillespie, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), echoed this sentiment.
“We ask that all parties come together now and diligently work through the differences in the House and Senate spectrum bills to assure final resolution of this high priority national imperative to create jobs, boost the economy, cut the deficit and greatly enhance our nationwide emergency communications infrastructure,” Gillespie said in a prepared statement.
Public-safety officials generally have been supportive of the S.911 language, but they have expressed concern with aspects of the House bill. One provision calls for public safety to return its 700 MHz narrowband spectrum within 10 years, despite the fact that more than $2 billion has been spent on these networks nationwide and few will be nearing their end of life in a decade.
In addition, many public-safety representatives are concerned about the governance model proposed in the House bill, which calls for an administrator structure that is similar to the one used for 800 MHz rebanding.
“While the 800 MHz rebanding initiative is paid for by a commercial entity, what was supposed to be a 3-year effort has stretched into its eighth year, at a cost that was significantly more than estimated,” the Public Safety Alliance wrote in an open letter to all members of Congress. “The current administrator has no incentive to expedite the process and both industry and public safety have found this governance model entirely unsatisfactory.”