Allocation of the D-Block — what some in public safety have called the single most important issue for first responders across all disciplines — may actually be nearing a favorable resolution. In short, there appears to be growing support for the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2010 — known to policy wonks as S. 3756. For a quick review of this legislation, we turn to an explanation given by Govtrack.us, which says the bill is aimed at amending the Communications Act of 1934 “to provide public safety providers an additional 10 megahertz of spectrum to support a national, interoperable wireless broadband network and authorize the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions to provide funding to support such a network.”
So, What’s Happening?
Let’s begin with what won’t be happening anytime in the next two and a half months — a vote of any kind on S. 3756. On October 8, 2010 everyone in Washington who matters left town to campaign for reelection — or defeat, as fate may have it — returning for a lame-duck session in mid-November that will likely net next to nothing in terms of real movement forward. But there are some very encouraging signals that in the early portion of 2011, things could begin to move quickly.
During a public hearing on the subject held toward the end of September, Senator Jay Rockefeller — Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and the man who introduced S. 3756 in the first place — reiterated his support to use funding from commercial spectrum auctions to make a nationwide, wireless broadband network for first responders a reality. Following that hearing, the Public Safety Alliance — which represents the nation's leading public safety associations such as APCO, IACP, IAFC, and many others — announced what they believe to be a successful week of activities in Washington D.C. aimed at ensuring allocation of the D-Block to public safety.
Starting a Chain Reaction
During those hearings, an important player — Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison — began to express at least some level of support for Rockefeller’s bill. Although she has not said she’d cosponsor the legislation—there’s no political upside to doing that days before a recess during the final month before election day — when you watch the video on C-SPAN, and read between the lines of what some of the major players are saying, her words may signal a significant milestone. If — and it is still a big IF — Hutchison adds her name to the list of cosponsors, she would be the first Republican to do so. From there, any number of dominoes may quickly fall.
It’s clear that PSA is still holding meetings and working the backchannels in Washington as the organization seeks additional names for the cosponsor list. Once support from one or more cosponsors happens and once that bill gets out of committee — probably when it’s reintroduced at the beginning of the 2011 session — then D-Block allocation to public safety has got a decent shot.
In its most recent press release, PSA featured a comment from Chief Robert Davis of the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department. "From the support expressed today by the leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee we clearly made an impact on the positions of policy makers and gained momentum for public safety’s position," Davis said. "In addition, the administration has been fully engaged with public safety and has a clear understanding of our effort and what we are trying to accomplish."
“We’ve come a long way,” Acting Assistant Chief Chris Moore of San Jose (Calif.) Police Department told PoliceOne via phone upon his return from Washington. “Public safety has come a long way from where we were a year and a half ago. Having said that, we’re not yet across the finish line and we have to continue to work hard to support that legislation to make sure we get the D-Block.”
Even looking at the issue with the pessimism of a jaded journalist, PSA and its many member organizations appear to have made some serious progress. So much so that optimism is beginning to really take root among the people who strongly support public safety’s acquisition of this prime communications real estate. Speaking "off the record" with a handful of people close to this issue, one cannot help but to believe good things really may soon happen.
An Uphill Slog Remains
The fact is, public safety needs the 700 MHz D-Block spectrum, and although recent activity in the space suggests that this may become a reality, significant hurdles remain. With nearly universal support from private enterprises in the wireless industry, the FCC continues to cling to its recommendation to license the D-Block of 700MHz spectrum to broadband commercial networks, with the caveat that public safety would have “priority access” during emergencies. This mirrors the plan originally introduced by the FCC at the time of the 700 MHz auction back in 2008.
That plan, as has been reported repeatedly in this space, proved to be totally ineffective.
If you support the effort to secure the D-Block of spectrum for public safety, you can find ways to take action on the PSA website. You can also comment below and PoliceOne will collect those comments and send them to Washington in your behalf. Meanwhile, if you’re sufficiently motivated to learn more, you can watch the two videos embedded below — parts one and two of a press conference held by PSA in the immediate aftermath of the Senate Commerce Committee meeting in September.