Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would re-allocate a chunk of spectrum to public safety officials for the creation of a national broadband interoperable network.
Rockefeller said the bill mirrors the measure he offered last Congress that would re-allocate the D-block of spectrum to public safety officials instead of auctioning it off to commercial bidders as the Federal Communications Commission has proposed.
He noted that with the upcoming 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress needs to finally implement a recommendation by the commission that investigated those attacks to create a national broadband interoperable public safety network to help first responders better communicate during emergencies. The 2001 terrorist attacks highlighted the problems first responders have had in trying to communicate with each other during emergencies.
"I think it's a national priority," Rockefeller said.
The issue is controversial because some House lawmakers including key members of the Energy and Commerce Committee favor the FCC's plan, which also called for using the proceeds from the auction of the D-block to help pay for the construction of the public safety network.
Rockefeller's bill includes a provision authorizing the FCC to conduct incentive auctions, which are aimed at persuading broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum in exchange for some of the proceeds from the auction of that spectrum. Rockefeller's bill notes that some of the money from these incentive auctions and funding derived from other auctions also can be used to help pay for the construction of the public safety network.
The issue has not only split lawmakers but also industry. Some of the nation's biggest wireless providers such as AT&T and Verizon favor giving the D-block to public safety, while T-Mobile, Sprint and smaller wirless carriers favor the FCC's proposal to auction off the spectrum to commercial bidders.
Rockefeller noted that he planned to meet Tuesday with officials from T-Mobile.
T-Mobile and other wireless providers are part of the Connect Public Safety Now coalition that are urging lawmakers to allow the FCC to auction the D-Block to commercial bidders and at the same time provide funding to build the public safety broadband network.
"While we respectfully disagree with Mr. Rockefeller on the way to get there, we stand with him on the need to build this network, and are committed to ensuring that it becomes a reality - quickly," the coalition said in a statement Tuesday, which also noted the FCC's move to request comments on the technical details related to building a national broadband interoperable public safety network.