After losing out on a chance to include legislation in a bill raising the nation's debt ceiling, public safety officials are increasing pressure on Congress to act on their top priority: creating a national broadband network for them.
"While the debt bill, which was enacted last night, monopolized a great deal of congressional time and energy, it is imperative that the House and Senate make passing legislation allocating the D-block and funding to public safety their top priority," the Public Safety Alliance said in a statement Wednesday. "With just six weeks remaining before the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, no issue is more vital to the safety of every American along with those men and women who protect our nation."
The alliance is a coalition made up of groups representing fire and police chiefs, sheriffs and others that has been lobbying Congress heavily on the issue for the last year. The alliance conducted a "fly-in" in Washington last week during which its members met with lawmakers to make another push on the issue.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation in June that would authorize funding and reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for a national broadband network aimed at resolving some of the communications issues that have plagued them for years. Those problems were highlighted during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when police and fire fighters in New York could not communicate with each other.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has been pushing to get his bill through the Senate before the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks but prospects for such action are dimming given that Congress is gone on its month-long August break until early September. He had hoped to get the public safety provisions and other measures from his bill included in the debt ceiling legislation but they did not make it in the final version enacted on Tuesday.
In addition, House Energy and Commerce Republicans remain at odds with Senate Commerce on some key issues in the legislation. A draft GOP spectrum bill from Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., released last month would not give the D-block to public safety officials but would stick with current law and auction it to commercial bidders.
The alliance has endorsed the Rockefeller bill but said it opposes Walden's draft measure. "The Walden language not only requires the auction of the D Block, but it puts at risk existing interoperable communications systems by creating an unfunded mandate to state and local governments to move all 700 MHz narrowband voice communications systems to allow for broadband data services," the group said in its statement.