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Key Senators Announce Bills to Reallocate D Block to Public Safety

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
August 2, 2010

Key Senate leaders announced two separate bills July 21 that would reallocate the D Block of the 700 Mhz spectrum to public safety and provide funding for the build out and maintenance of a public safety broadband network. These announcements came the same day as public safety officials – police, fire and emergency medical – were on Capitol Hill to lobby for just such legislation. The bills were announced during a press conference in front of the Capitol that day organized by the Public Safety Alliance.

Senators Joseph Lieberman (CT) and John McCain (AZ) were at the press conference to announce the First Responders Protection Act of 2010 (S 3625), which would reallocate the D Block to public safety, require the auction of other portions of the spectrum, and use the proceeds from that auction to establish a Public Safety Interoperable Construction Fund and a Maintenance and Operations Fund, each with $5.5 billion. Funds would go first to the construction fund and when that fund reaches $5.5 billion, additional funds of up to $5.5 billion would go to the operations fund. These funds would then be used for grant programs to be administered by the Secretary of the Treasury. Lieberman chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. McCain is the ranking member of that Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security.

Also that day, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, announced that he will soon introduce the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act. Similar to the Lieberman-McCain bill, it would reallocate the D Block to public safety, auction other parts of the spectrum, and use the proceeds to assist public safety in the construction and development of a network. Rockefeller met personally with several of the public safety officials who were on Capitol Hill that day to make the announcement, and sent a statement that was read at the press conference. Rockefeller’s Committee has jurisdiction over broadband policy.

The day following the announcements, Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran sent letters to Lieberman, McCain and Rockefeller thanking them for “listening to public safety and state and local government officials.” “Mayors strongly support allocating the D block to public safety because it would help to assure that our first responders are able to access a broadband network capable of providing reliable high speed data and voice applications so that they can meet current and future public safety needs,” Cochran wrote. “We also support identification of alternative federal funding sources to ensure that all states and localities can afford the costs associated with transition to a nationwide network. Dedicating a portion of the proceeds of future spectrum auction can accomplish this without requiring significant appropriations,” he continued.

The Public Safety Alliance, which is a partnership of national public safety organizations, including International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Sheriffs Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, International, National Emergency Management Association and the Association of Public'safety Communications Officials (APCO), has been spearheading public safety’s efforts to reallocate the D Block to public safety and establish a funding source to build out and support a network. It has worked closely with the Conference of Mayors and other Big 7 organizations, which have been united in their position in support of reallocation of the D Block to public safety. Staff from several of the organizations, including the Conference of Mayors, accompanied the public safety officials on their Hill visits July 21.