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Bill Would Reallocate Spectrum For Public Safety Use-Congress Daily

By Juliana Gruenwald

House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced legislation Wednesday that would require that a controversial chunk of spectrum be realloacted for use by public safety officials instead of being auctioned off to commercial bidders as the FCC has proposed in its national broadband plan.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Homeland Security Emerging Threats Subcommittee Chairwoman Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., would allocate the D-block of spectrum in the 700 megahertz band for public safety use and would reserve an additional 10 megahertz of spectrum for use by public safety officials. In a statement, King said the proposal would double the amount of broadband spectrum that is currently allocated for public safety use.

In its broadband plan, the FCC proposed auctioning off the D-block of spectrum to a commercial bidder with no strings attached. The FCC has suggested that the commercial bidder could, but isn’t required to, enter into an agreement with public safety officials. The FCC proposal follows a failed effort in 2008 by the commission to auction the D-block to a commercial bidder willing to enter into a public-private partnership with first responders. The broadband plan calls for the creation of a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety officials to be built using 10 megahertz of spectrum already under the control of emergency responders and adjacent to the D-block of spectrum.

State officials, however, have expressed concern with these proposals and have called on Congress to pass legislation that would reallocate the D-block for public safety use. In a letter earlier this month to key members of Congress, the National Governors Association and other state and local groups argued that an FCC proposal to provide “public safety roaming and priority access on other commercial 700 megahertz networks for a fee” would not ensure that emergency first responders have the “reliable and resilient communications capabilities” they need to meet public safety needs.

In a statement, King echoed these concerns and noted that the D-block spectrum is “ideal” for use by public safety officials because of its “in-building penetration capability.” He added, “We cannot place brave Americans’ lives at risk through a piecemeal approach to our spectrum allocation. We must ensure that America’s public safety professionals have the communications spectrum to do their jobs and save lives.”