Vice President Joe Biden tried to help rally support Thursday for legislation to finally build a national broadband network to improve communications among public safety agencies.
At a summit hosted at the White House, Biden urged prompt action on the legislation and promised he would ensure funding. Biden is helping to lead the administration’s talks with Congress on the budget, and he said the funding from spectrum auctions is in play in the talks.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation last week that would reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D-Block to public safety officials instead of auctioning it off for commercial use as required by current law. It also would establish a framework and funding mechanism for building the network.
Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who attended the event but did not speak, is pushing to get his legislation passed before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which exposed major problems public safety officials have in communicating with each other.
“As the 10th anniversary approaches, we urge Congress to continue moving toward this legislation. We think it’s imperative,” Biden said. “I think we have to keep the drums beating. The only way this will not come to fruition is if we take our foot off the pedal.”
President Obama came out in favor of reallocating the D-block to public safety in February as part of his goal of expanding wireless broadband access to most Americans.
Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were also on hand.
"To get a new public safety network built, there are still tough issues to work through, and we may not agree on every detail," Genachowski said. "But we all agree on the need for action."
In its national broadband plan released last year, however, the FCC called for auctioning the D-block, as required, to commercial providers and using the proceeds to help pay for the public safety network. The FCC says such a network could cost $12 billion. Public safety officials opposed the FCC plan because they say the initial 10 megahertz the FCC provided to them for their network is insufficient.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said supporters must keep up the momentum to push the bill through Congress. Public safety officials have been lobbying hard on the issue for the last year.
They still face obstacles. GOP leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have voiced concerns with the budget implications of reallocating the D-block, and some Senate Commerce Republicans also worry that Rockefeller’s bill will end up costing taxpayers.
The bill aims to pay for the public safety network and generate funding for deficit reduction though the auction of spectrum, with a goal of enticing broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum in exchange for a share in the proceeds.
This article appears in the June 16, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.