A key GOP Senate Commerce aide voiced optimism on Thursday for the prospects for legislation aimed at building a national broadband network for public-safety officials, even if the House GOP leaders move ahead with a different bill.
“What we tried to do in the Senate is to find a comprehensive approach,” David Quinalty, a senior aide to Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said during a policy forum sponsored by Politico. “The House maybe isn’t there yet, but we want to show them the path forward. I think we’ve done that.”
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation on Wednesday sponsored by Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Hutchison that would reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public-safety officials for a national broadband network instead of auctioning it for commercial use as required under current law.
It also would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions to help pay for the public-safety network and to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband technologies. Broadcasters who volunteer to give up some of their spectrum to auction off would get a share in the proceeds.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has yet to introduce its own legislation. Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said during a recent hearing that he has “concerns that reallocating the D-block rather than auctioning it may be a mistake.” He said after the hearing that his staff would begin working on spectrum legislation.
Hutchison said in a brief interview on Wednesday that House Republicans would like to see more spectrum auction funding go toward deficit reduction, but added that she is satisfied that the Senate Commerce bill would generate enough money to help reduce the deficit, possibly by as much as $10 billion.
Quinalty said he still likes the bill’s prospects, even if the House passes legislation that does not reallocate the D-block to public safety.
The analyst firm Stifel Nicolaus echoed Quinalty’s optimism about the bill’s prospects in a research note on Thursday, but cautioned that policy disputes could still trip it up. Stifel Nicolaus said that the legislation could make it the Senate floor in July. Rockefeller is pushing hard to pass the bill before the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, which exposed deep problems with communications systems used by emergency first responders.
“Yesterday’s committee action went well for S. 911’s proponents overall, and we believe it confirmed that a public-safety/spectrum bill has much basic political appeal and will be difficult to oppose, particularly in the open when it’s brought to a vote. The challenge remains to resolve all the thorny legislative disputes and build sufficient consensus and momentum in order to keep the effort from languishing in the shadows,” the analysis reads.
Among the four senators who voted against the Commerce spectrum bill was Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. Her telecom aide Matthew Hussey said during Thursday’s event that Snowe still has concerns about the bill’s potential costs, as well as whether rural areas will benefit enough from the bill and whether it does enough to ensure that first responders will be able to effectively communicate with each other.
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This article appears in the June 9, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.