Most members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee believe that a controversial chunk of spectrum should be auctioned to commercial bidders and not be given to public-safety officials, one important member of the panel said on Wednesday.
This could mean a showdown with the Senate if and when legislation passes both chambers.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., vice chairman of the Communications and Internet Subcommittee on spectrum issues, said the panel is still in the early stages of drafting its spectrum bill, which is supposed to meet the nation’s growing demand for wireless-broadband services. “It’s a complex bill,” he said.
But one potential sticking point with the Senate Commerce Committee appears to be what to do with a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block, which is slated under current law to be auctioned.
Public-safety officials and the White House want the D-block reallocated to public safety for the creation of a national, interoperable broadband network for first responders, which is what the Senate bill, passed last month by the Commerce Committee, would do.
“If the majority of the committee feels its best use is to auction it, we’re not going to pander to the other side” by giving the D-block to public-safety officials, Terry said. He added that while many Democrats have sided with the White House on giving the D-block to public safety, he expects there will be bipartisan support for the House approach.
Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told National Journal Daily that while she understands that her House GOP counterparts “want nothing given away,” she and Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are focused on just getting the bill passed through the Senate. After that, it would go to conference with the House.
At the Communications Subcommittee hearing, several lawmakers pressed National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Lawrence Strickling on whether the federal government is doing enough to free up more spectrum to meet demand for wireless-broadband services. NTIA is the Commerce Department agency responsible for managing the federal government’s spectrum inventory.
Strickling said the agency has been moving aggressively to identify bands of spectrum that could be freed up to meet President Obama’s goal of finding 500 megahertz of additional spectrum for mobile-broadband use over the next decade.
Several lawmakers questioned whether NTIA is doing enough to encourage federal users to use commercial spectrum services or to share bands with commercial users when possible. “The NTIA is going to have to ask some hard questions of government spectrum users,” Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.
Strickling said the most important thing Congress could do is allocate enough funding and staff so federal agencies analyzing the cost of relocating to different bands can ensure the move is cost-effective.
This article appears in the July 7, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.