The National Governors Association is turning up the pressure on Congress to pass controversial legislation that would reallocate a chunk of spectrum to public safety officials for the creation of a nationwide interoperable broadband communications network.
The NGA and a coalition of police, fire and other first-responder groups have been calling for a direct reallocation the so-called D-Block of spectrum instead of adopting the FCC's proposal to auction it off to commercial bidders.
In a letter sent today to House and Senate leaders, Govs. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., and Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., urged passage of legislation offered by Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller that would re-allocate the D-Block to public safety officials. At the same time, it would direct the FCC to establish standards that allow public safety officials, when not using the network, to lease capacity to commercial users or others as long as it could be preempted.
The FCC's national broadband plan called for building a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety using 10 megahertz of spectrum already under the control of emergency responders. The proposal follows the FCC's failed effort in 2008 to auction the D-block, which is adjacent to the 10 megahertz, to a commercial bidder willing to enter into a public-private partnership with first responders.
In the broadband plan, the FCC has called for auctioning off the D-block to a commercial bidder for wireless broadband use and using the auction proceeds to help pay for the creation of the public safety network.
The governors and some public safety officials say the FCC plan does not adequately address their needs because it does not provide them with enough spectrum.
"Without sufficient dedicated spectrum, our first responders will face increasingly complex and costly challenges as they seek to ensure they can communicate with each other and the public when necessary," said O'Malley and Brewer, co-leaders of the NGA's Special Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety.
Their letter was sent to House Speaker Pelosi, House Minority Leader Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell.
To address concerns about the growing need for spectrum for wireless broadband, Rockefeller's bill would also provide the FCC with "incentive auction authority" to offer current spectrum holders a share of auction proceeds if they relinquish some spectrum.
But some FCC officials and lawmakers say even if the D-block is reallocated to public safety officials, they still would not have enough spectrum during emergencies. The FCC has called for a requirement that public safety officials have priority access to roam on commercial networks during emergencies.
In addition, these critics note that public safety officials also would be left with a challenge even bigger than building a public safety network: finding the money to pay for it.