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Congress

White House: No Position on D Block

October 20, 2010

Phil Weiser, a senior White House aide for technology and innovation, said Wednesday that the Obama administration has not taken a position on whether a valuable and controversial band of airwaves, known as the D block, should be auctioned for commercial use or handed over to public safety officials.

The administration favors an "integrated" approach to the challenge of creating an interoperable public safety communications network, Weiser said.

The FCC, members of Congress, industry, and first responders are divided about what should happen to the D block of spectrum. Some public safety officials have argued that the D block is essential to the creation of a public safety network. Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced legislation that would give the D-block to public safety officials but also direct the FCC to develop rules allowing for commercial users or others to use the spectrum on a secondary but preemptible basis.

The FCC supports an auction, as do some members of Congress, including the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee. The FCC's proposal calls for using the proceeds from the D-block auction to help fund the creation of the public safety communications network.

Weiser's remarks came at a forum convened by the Brookings Institution about the "looming shortage of wireless spectrum." Much of the shortage is due to a growing demand for wireless broadband.

Weiser said it's unclear whether the nation's ability to meet spectrum demand is hindered more by red tape or actual scarcity. Part of the issue, Weiser noted, is that nobody knows how technology will evolve.

Adele Morris, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that government control of spectrum has created "a mismatch between supply and demand."

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