The chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee said Tuesday he is making progress in narrowing differences with the panel's Democrats on spectrum legislation.
The Communications and Technology Subcommittee had hoped to schedule a markup this week on legislation aimed at freeing up more spectrum for mobile broadband and to help build a national broadband network for public safety. But after meeting with key Energy and Commerce Democrats on Tuesday, subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he is planning to move legislation by the end of the year.
"I appreciate the progress we are making, and we will continue working in good faith to develop legislation that creates jobs, establishes a public safety network, and reduces the deficit. Members on both sides of the aisle are committed to getting the policy right, which is why we continue to avoid any arbitrary deadlines for action," he said in a statement. "However, I have set a personal goal to advance legislation by the end of this year and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve that goal with the strongest, most effective bill we can produce."
Since releasing competing drafts of the legislation in July, Republican and Democratic leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee have been trying to work out their differences.
One of the key differences centers on whether to reallocate a swath of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety for a national broadband network. The Republican version offered by Walden would maintain current law and auction the D-block to commercial bidders. Walden and other Republicans would rather see the funding from a D-block auction go toward deficit reduction. They also say that public safety has already been given plenty of spectrum for their network.
"That's one of the big issues that's unresolved. Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif, said of the D-block issue during a brief interview Tuesday. "There are a lot of issues. That's why I don't think we're going to mark up this week." The draft bill released by Waxman and Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., would reallocate the D-block to public safety as would bipartisan legislation approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in June.
Walden met with Waxman and Eshoo Tuesday to discuss the spectrum bill. "Anna Eshoo and I want to reach a bipartisan agreement, and I think the Republicans feel the same way. This issue shouldn't be partisan," Waxman added.
One possible compromise on the D-block issue could involve public safety giving up some other less critical spectrum in exchange for receiving the D-block, according to one source following the issue closely.
Public safety officials say the D-block spectrum is ideally suited for the creation of a national broadband network and can be paired with spectrum they already have. They say such a network will greatly enhance their ability to respond to emergencies by allowing firefighters to download blueprints of a burning building, for example, or enabling paramedics to send a patient's vital signs en route to an emergency room.
"We know the members of the subcommittee are working hard toward a compromise," said Sean Kirkendall, a spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance, which represents sheriffs, police and fire chiefs, and other emergency first responders. "At the end of the day, we need to see the D-block allocation and funding. But we do continue to believe there's room for compromise."