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FCC D Block Priority: Interoperable and Sustainable Public Safety Net

The FCC has proposed trying to re-auction the D block of
spectrum for a public-private partnership creating an interoperable
emergency communications network, but the Commission appears ready to
work with Congress and others on an alternative
that puts the spectrum directly in the hands of public safety.

Saying he is speaking for virtually all the the police chiefs, fire chiefs, sheriffs, and first responders,

as well as governors, mayors and state legislators, Police Chief Robert Davis plans to tell a Senate

Communications Subcommittee hearing audience that the D block of spectrum needs to be reallocated to public

safety with sufficient funding to build and maintain the infrastructure.

That is according to prepared testimony for a Thursday morning hearing in the committee entitled "Keeping Us

Safe: The Need for a Nationwide Public Safety Network."

The FCC proposed in the national broadband plan to try
to re-auction the D block to commercial users, with the caveat that they
would have to turn over their networks to first responders in an
emergency. The FCC tried to auction it once before for
that public/private partnership but failed to draw a minimum bid.

The public safety community has argued that a partnership
is not the right way to go. "[T]he notion that has been advanced by
some wireless carriers that they should control the network and allow
public safety to lease it. This simply will not
work for public safety. A dropped call on a cell phone is an annoyance;
in an emergency it literally can mean the difference between life and
death. Public safety personnel must have coverage whenever and wherever
we respond in an emergency," Davis said.

According to an FCC official speaking on background,
rather than push for that partnership, look for the FCC's message at the
hearing Thursday to be that it stands ready to work with Congress and
the public safety community and the wireless industry
on a network that is truly interoperable, nationwide and technically
feasible--meaning that there is enough money to create and sustain it.

Davis, who is chief of the San Jose Police Department and president of the Major cities Chiefs Association, will be preaching to the choir when it comes to Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who last month

introduced a bill that would allocate spectrum and funds to create a national, interoperable public safety


While the hearing is billed as a general fact-finder, Rockefeller's bill will almost certainly be among the

focuses of the gathering. And in case that hadn't been
the plan, it will be after Davis's testimony if he remains true to the
script. "Mr. Chairman, your bill, S. 3756 provides us exactly what we
need to make this network a reality," he plans
to tell the committee. "We thank you for your leadership, and we urge
all of your colleagues in Congress to support your bill."

Testifying for the FCC will be Admiral James Barnett, chief of the Public Safety Bureau.