A day after raising concerns about a House GOP draft spectrum bill, top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce released their own measure Thursday which differs on whether public safety officials should be given a valuable chunk of spectrum.
Both the GOP and Democratic versions of the spectrum bills agree on the need to ensure public safety officials have a national broadband network to improve emergency first responder communications.
But like a bipartisan bill approved last month by the Senate Commerce Committee, the House Democratic draft released by Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.would reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for their broadband network.
A GOP draft released Wednesday by Energy and Commerce Republicans sticks with current law by requiring that the D-block be auctioned to commercial bidders. Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., has argued that public safety officials have enough spectrum to create their network, noting they have been given nearly 100 megahertz.
He also has voiced concern that giving the D-block away to public safety would leave a hole in the federal budget at a time when lawmakers are trying to find ways to reduce the deficit.
Like the House GOP draft and the Senate bill, the House Democratic measure would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband. The aim is to entice broadcasters and others to give up some of their spectrum for a share of the proceeds.
The Waxman-Eshoo measure also would allow the FCC to conduct only one round of incentive auctions, a provision sought by broadcasters.
The Democratic measure also would use the some of the auction funds to help pay for the creation of the public safety network. And like the Senate bill, it would create a nonprofit corporation to oversee the funding and construction of the public safety network.
"The draft legislation reflects our view on how we can best help our nation meet its current and future needs for wireless broadband spectrum and address the pressing need to provide public safety with advanced communications capabilities," Waxman said in a statement. "There are important differences between our approach and the Republicans', but I hope that we will be able to work together to develop a bipartisan consensus."
AT&T released a statement saying the company is "pleased by the concerted effort being put forth to address a critical infrastructure problem in our country - the need to bring additional spectrum into the marketplace. The legislation put forth by Ranking Members Waxman and Eshoo provides an effective framework to do just that."
The Communications and Subcommittee is holding a hearing Friday on public safety spectrum where both the Democratic and GOP draft bills will likely be debated.