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Hill Hears More Calls for Spectrum Auction/Emergency Net Bill

Sen. Jay Rockefeller took to the Congressional Record to pitch congressional action on a spectrum auction/interoperable broadband network bill while elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security and former chair of the 9/11 Commission echoed that call.

In a statement submitted for the Record to honor first responders as part of the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Rockefeller said the best way they could do that would be to make sure they have the communications tools to be "successful, to be safe and to do their job in a way that does not expose them to needless dangers."

Rockefeller's bill would give 10 mHz of spectrum to first responders for an interoperable network paid for via proceeds from the auction of broadcast and other spectrum.

"Shouldn't a firefighter be able to wirelessly download a floor plan of a burning building before running into it?  Shouldn't a police officer be able to receive an immediate digital snapshot of a dangerous criminal?  And shouldn't an emergency medical technician be able to receive life-saving medical information on a patient following an accident?," Rockefeller asked rhetorically.

He urged passage of S. 911, his Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, which he had been hoping could pass by the tenth anniversary date.

"This week, as we come together as a nation to remember and honor the lives lost on 9/11, I also urge my colleagues to support the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.  And to those who say we cannot afford to do this now, I say we cannot afford not to. Because this effort is about saving lives." he wrote.

"But if this reason is not compelling enough, it is important to know this: this legislation pays for itself. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and even the industry itself, incentive auctions will bring in revenue well above what funding public safety requires, leaving billions over for deficit reduction. This is a win-win-win."

He said the bill was supported by "every major public safety organization across the country" as well as governors, mayors and the President. 

While broadcasters say they are not opposed to auctions, they are concerned the legislation does not provide sufficient protections for coverage areas and signal quality, and that the voluntary label that Rockefeller and others put on the legislation is compromised by that lack of explicit protection.

A similar message to Rockefeller's was being sent on the House side of the Capitol in a hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on progress toward the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, or more specifically, where insufficient progress has been made.

Chairman of that committee is Peter King (R-N.Y.), who also has a spectrum auction/public safety net bill. While many Republicans have argued the spectrum should be auctioned to private industry for a public-private partnership, as current law requires, like Rockefeller, King advocates for allocation as well.

At the hearing, witnesses Lee Hamilton, former vice chair of the 9/11 commission, and Tom Ridge, former secretary of Homeland Security, were unified in their frustration that no interoperable network had been created 10 years after the 9/11 attacks.

Hamilton said that such a network was a "no brainer," that first responders had to have the ability to exchange information, including data. He said it was an enormous frustration that it remained unbuilt. He said he was not as concerned about which bill got it done -- though he gave a shout-out to King's version -- as he was that it finally get done. "My plea to you is to get this resolved," he said.

Ridge opined that while the technology existed, what was lacking was the political will. He said the ability to exchange voice, data and video over a broadband network would have its roots in the horrors of 9/11, but its bloom in the dramatic improvements in public safety across the board and in time of natural or man-made disasters.

That follows the call Wednesday from House Energy & Commerce Committee member Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that a bill -- she also has a proposal -- pass ASAP.