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PSA To Congress: Come Together on Public Safety Net Bill

On the eve of the markup of an incentive auction/public safety network bill (S. 911) in the Senate Commerce Committee June 8, The Public Safety Alliance (PSA) was urging Republicans and Democrats to work together to get legislation passed.

"After nine hearings on this issue in less than a year, it's time for all Members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats - to get behind this bill and support America's first responders," said PSA spokesman Chief Christopher Moore in a statement. "It's long overdue for this bill to move out of committee. And, the votes tomorrow will demonstrate who believes the safety of the American people is what's most important in this debate."

The bill would allocate the D block of spectrum to public safety for an interoperable broadband communications network, something the 9/11 Commission recommended. It would pay for that with proceeds from an auction of spectrum reclaimed from broadcasters for wireless broadband.

While some Republicans in the House have argued that public safety already had gotten spectrum and $13 billion in funds from the government (according to a Congressional Research Service report) without producing an interoperable network, the alliance says that is a misrepresentation of data from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA).

According to a letter from NEMA to CRS, the research service had mistaken an estimate of funds that would be needed for funds received to come up with that $13 billion number that gained currency among Republicans opposed to allocating the D block. It asked the Congressional Research Service to issue a correction.

S. 911 is expected to pass according to various sources, but not before legislators work through some 90 amendments. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va,) wants the bill passed and sent to the president before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Broadcasters do not oppose the auctions, but want to make sure they are not forced off spectrum to make way for wireless broadband. House Republicans have said they would still prefer auctioning the D block, as Congress directed in DTV transition legislation in 1996.

But the White House wants the D block auctioned, as do top House and Senate Democrats and some Republicans--notably Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in the House. Rockefeller has said the FCC is squarely behind allocation, though the FCC has seemed more resigned than enthusiastic, having supported an auction in its National Broadband Plan.

The FCC tried unsuccessfully to auction the D block several years ago, but with conditions like a buildout timetable and minimum asking price.