Most of the nation's state attorneys general are calling on Congress to reallocate spectrum to public safety officials for the creation of a national broadband network aimed at improving emergency communications.
In a letter to congressional leaders sent late last week, 42 state attorneys general urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would reallocate a swath of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for a national broadband network. That spectrum is slated under current law to be auctioned to commercial bidders. The Senate Commerce Committee approved spectrum legislation in June that would give the D-block to public safety agencies and authorize funding to build such a network, but GOP leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee would prefer to see the D-block auctioned.
The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and natural emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exposed deep problems with the communications systems used by police, firefighters and other emergency responders who had difficulties communicating with each other. The proposed national public safety network would eventually address those problems while also allowing first responders to use the latest technologies to improve how they respond to emergencies.
The letter from the attorneys general, organized by the National Association of Attorneys General, did not endorse any particular bill, but said that "by providing the resources to develop a reliable, rapid and comprehensive wireless communications system, the D-block designation would serve all our citizens well."
The letter added that, "We understand that Congress may take action on this important legislation prior to the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Nothing could be more appropriate than marking this solemn anniversary by making a genuine commitment to public safety communication, for this and future generations."
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has been pushing for passage of his spectrum legislation before the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks but it appears increasingly unlikely that lawmakers will act before that date.
Still, Rockefeller and Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, touted the bill in a letter Friday to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to do what it can to ensure the reliability of both private and public safety communications during emergencies such as last week's earthquake that struck the East Coast and jammed cellphone networks. Such problems highlight the need for police, fire and other public safety officials to have their own dedicated network so that they do not have to rely on commercial networks, which can become overloaded during emergencies, Rockefeller and Hutchison wrote.