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King: Now is Time to Reallocate D Block

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland
Security Committee says it is time to allocate, not auction, D block spectrum
for a national interoperable public safety network.

That came in a hearing in the committee Wednesday on King's
re-introduction of a bill (H 607) that would allocate the D block spectrum
and pay for it through auction of broadcast and other spectrum to wireless
companies. The hearing hosted public safety officials backing the bill and saying it was
past time to create and fund the network in the shadow of the tenth anniversary
of 9/11.

William Carrow, president of the The Association of
Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said that the needs of first
responders are not being met, and that young people coming into public safety
jobs have more capabilities on their personal communications devices than
they do in their jobs. He said allocating the D block to public safety
(10 MHz adjacent to the 10 MHz already allocated to public safety) is
a unique opportunity to give public safety exactly what it needs.

King pointed out that it has been almost seven years since
the 9/11 Commission recommended in 2004 that the network be built ASAP.

Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of the National Sheriffs'
Association said that among all the recommendations, the public safety network is
the only one that has not been acted on.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the
committee and co-sponsor of the bill, pointed out that house Energy & Commerce
Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) still supported auctioning the D
block--for a public-private partnership--as did the FCC (a recommendation
of the national broadband plan). But he called on them both to support
allocation of the block.

Thompson said he hoped the hearing would convince the
Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman and the FCC of "the importance of public
safety" and that reallocation, not auction, was the way to go. He
said Upton's desire to auction
the spectrum to private interests and use the money for deficit reduction
could be a case of being pennywise but pound foolish.

Under current law, the FCC is required to auction the D
Block, which is why legislation would be needed to allocate it. The FCC
tried to auction the block back in 2008, but it did not meet the minimum bid.
The plan was to auction the spectrum to a private entity that would pay to
build and maintain the network, but turn it over to first responders during

Public safety officers testifying pointed out that the Obama
administration has come out in favor of allocating the block, and that there
is a Senate bill (S. 28) with bipartisan support.

A byproduct of both the House and Senate bills would be
giving the FCC the authority to compensate broadcasters for spectrum reclaimed
from them as part of the FCC and Obama administration's effort to free
up up to 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband. That is because
some of the money from that auction--estimated to raise in the tens of
billions--would also go to building and maintaining the public safety

Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY) said reallocating the D block is
"a matter of life and death," and King said he wanted to get the bill passed
and signed by next Sept. 11.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.