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State-Local Elected, Public Safety Officials Oppose Spectrum Auction in National Broadband Plan

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
April 19, 2010


Opposition to the proposal in the National Broadband Plan to auction off the D block of the 700 MHz spectrum has been building among mayors, governors, police and fire chiefs, and other state and local officials and emergency responders and the organizations that represent them in Washington. The executive directors of the “Big 7” organizations, which represent state and local government, including Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran, wrote on April 14 to the chairmen and ranking members of key House and Senate Committees and Subcommittees with jurisdiction over the Plan, urging them to “oppose a commercial auction of the 700 MHz D block and support legislation to reallocate the D block of spectrum to public safety.” Organizations representing public safety officials, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum, also have called for reserving the D block for public safety.

The National Broadband Plan, released by the Federal Communications Commission March 16, proposes that the D block be auctioned to the highest bidder. The winner of the auction—expected to be a commercial carrier—could use the block for commercial applications, but also would be required to give public safety agencies priority access to the airwaves, particularly when they need it most to respond to major disasters or terrorist incidents.

The public safety community strongly believes that it must be able to access a broadband network capable of providing reliable high speed applications (both data and voice), and that developing broadband technologies will require a minimum of 20 MHz of spectrum (the 10 MHz currently licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust and the adjacent 10 MHz in the D block) to be able to meet current and future public safety needs.

The Big 7 letter echoes the position of the public safety community. It explains that “for years, state and local first responders have sought to build a national interoperable communications network that allows real-time information sharing through high speed video and data,” and that “this requires an appropriate, dedicated band of spectrum that can accommodate the everyday needs of firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel, as well as provide excess capacity during times of emergency.” It concludes that the 700 MHz D block is crucial to building the needed national system and expresses concern that providing “public safety roaming and priority access on other commercial 700 MHz networks for a fee…relies on untested technologies and new regulations that cannot ensure reliable and resilient communications capabilities to meet stringent public safety needs.”

The Big 7 letter to Congress is available at www.usmayors.org.