The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee have reached an agreement on legislation aimed at building a national broadband network for public-safety officials, according to Senate sources.
The committee plans to mark up the compromise version of the bill on Wednesday, according to a Senate aide. Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has been pushing to pass his legislation before the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and had been negotiating to gain the support of ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
The attacks helped expose the deep problems with the nation’s emergency communications system when firefighters and police officers were unable to communicate with each other.
Rockefeller’s original bill would reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for a national interoperable network.
It would also authorize the Federal Communications Commission to hold voluntary incentive auctions that would free up spectrum for wireless broadband technologies and generate funding to help pay for the public-safety network. The incentive auctions would entice broadcasters and others to give up some of their spectrum in exchange for a share in the proceeds.
Rockefeller and Hutchison introduced a placeholder bill in early May and will offer a substitute version at next week’s markup. The latest version of the substitute, a copy of which was obtained by National Journal, maintains the main elements of Rockefeller’s original bill and adds several new sections.
These include establishing a nonprofit Public Safety Broadband Corporation, which would be charged with overseeing the build-out of the public safety network. It would authorize this corporation to seek loans from the federal government to help build the network before incentive auction revenues come in and also to collect fees from public safety and commercial users of the network.
The draft also includes several provisions aimed at improving the federal government’s management of, and promoting more efficient use of, spectrum. It also would require an inventory of how spectrum is currently being used. In addition, it includes more explicit language barring the federal government from forcibly taking spectrum from broadcasters to auction off.
“With this latest draft, they have addressed the hard questions of how to fund and manage a national, robust network while reducing the deficit,” Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass, said in a a statement Wednesday.
This article appears in the June 2, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.