While the Senate Commerce Committee is racing to try to pass legislation aimed at creating an interoperable public safety network, the chairman of a key House panel said Tuesday he plans to take his time to ensure lawmakers understand related issues before proceeding with legislation.
The House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on building a public safety network for emergency first responders. Those scheduled to testify include representatives from companies that make public safety equipment and an official with a group that represents public safety officials.
The officials want Congress to pass legislation reallocating a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to create a national broadband emergency network. The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks called for the creation of such a network, given the difficulties first responders had in communicating with each other.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is pushing to pass his legislation re-allocating the D-block to public safety for a broadband network before the 10th anniversary of the attacks. He aimed to mark up a bill this week, but that was pushed off most likely until the week of June 6 when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day break, a Senate aide said.
Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said while he shares the goal of creating a public safety network, his first priority is to get the policy right.
“We want to make sure that an interoperable network works for public safety and works for taxpayers,” he said. Walden and other House lawmakers have been skeptical of proposals to re-allocate the D-block to public safety instead of auctioning it to commercial bidders as required by law.
Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing is the second in a series of hearings that Walden’s panel plans to hold on spectrum issues that may be rolled into one bill that calls for the creation of the public safety network.
In addition to reallocating the D-block, Rockefeller’s bill would authorize the FCC to hold incentive auctions to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband technologies. Incentive auctions are aimed at enticing current spectrum holders, such as broadcasters, to give up some of it in exchange for some of the proceeds from the auction of those airwaves. Money from incentive auctions would be used to pay for the public safety network under Rockefeller’s bill.
Walden, a former broadcaster, said a future hearing would focus on technical concerns that broadcasters have raised about how stations that decline to participate in the incentive auctions would be affected and whether they may face interference or a degradation of their signals as a result.
Walden would not say when he plans to introduce a spectrum bill but only that he feels a “sense of urgency” to work through all the issues first.
This article appears in the May 25, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.