Congress Looks to Borrow $2 Billion for Public Safety Net Grants

Draft bill to be vetted this week includes proposal to fund interoperable public safety broadband network
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Congress is proposing borrowing up to $2 billion from the Treasury to
fund the construction of an interoperable public safety broadband
network in the 700 MHz band. That is according to a draft of a bill that
will be vetted at a House hearing this week.

The FCC for years
has been trying to establish the network but failed to draw a minimum
when it auctioned the D Block of spectrum set aside for a public-private
public safety network partnership.

In its National Broadband
Plan, the commission suggested Congress might want to step in to help
fund the network rather than count on auctions alone.

The National
Telecommunications & Information Administration will administer the
construction fund grants to public safety organizations and determine
who should get them--much as it is doing with broadband stimulus grant
money--while the FCC will establish an advisory board and handle a
maintenance and operation fund, which will provide up to 50% of the
ongoing costs of networks. Grantees will have to put up 20% of the cost
of their networks.

The networks' construction fund will also get
money--up to $5.5 billion--from spectrum auctions of at least 25 MHz of
contiguous spectrum and the D Block spectrum.

The idea has been
that commercial users would lease the spectrum it uses the vast
majority of the time--the money from that would go into the operation
and maintenance fund--with public safety taking over for their
interoperable network(s) only in times of emergency.

The bill
would require the $2 billion government loan to be repaid to the general
treasury--without interest--by 2014. Anything above and beyond the $5.5
billion from the auctions for the construction fund--and the loan
payback--will go to the maintenance and operation fund.

The FCC
has a year to implement a rulemaking on the network, and a year to
identify the spectrum to auction. It is also directed to conduct a study
within five years to determine if more spectrum will be needed for
public safety.

The commission, under then-chairman Kevin Martin,
attempted to create that network via a public-private partnership but
was unable to attract a bidder willing to put up the minimum bid for the
so-called D-block in the 700 MHz auction.

In the broadband
plan, the commission proposed public funding for the network, which it
has estimated could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion over the
next decade, and recommended a "minimal public safety fee" tax on all
broadband users.

The bill does not appear to contain any
language about such a fee.

Congress is proposing borrowing up to $2 billion from the Treasury to fund the construction of an interoperable public safety broadband network in the 700 MHz band. That is according to a draft of a bill that will be vetted at a House hearing this week.

The FCC for years has been trying to establish the network but failed to draw a minimum when it auctioned the D Block of spectrum set aside for a public-private public safety network partnership.

In its National Broadband Plan, the commission suggested Congress might want to step in to help fund the network rather than count on auctions alone.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration will administer the construction fund grants to public safety organizations and determine who should get them--much as it is doing with broadband stimulus grant money--while the FCC will establish an advisory board and handle a maintenance and operation fund, which will provide up to 50% of the ongoing costs of networks. Grantees will have to put up 20% of the cost of their networks.

The networks' construction fund will also get money--up to $5.5 billion--from spectrum auctions of at least 25 MHz of contiguous spectrum and the D Block spectrum.

The idea has been that commercial users would lease the spectrum it uses the vast majority of the time--the money from that would go into the operation and maintenance fund--with public safety taking over for their interoperable network(s) only in times of emergency.

The bill would require the $2 billion government loan to be repaid to the general treasury--without interest--by 2014. Anything above and beyond the $5.5 billion from the auctions for the construction fund--and the loan payback--will go to the maintenance and operation fund.

The FCC has a year to implement a rulemaking on the network, and a year to identify the spectrum to auction. It is also directed to conduct a study within five years to determine if more spectrum will be needed for public safety.

The commission, under then-chairman Kevin Martin, attempted to create that network via a public-private partnership but was unable to attract a bidder willing to put up the minimum bid for the so-called D-block in the 700 MHz auction.

In the broadband plan, the commission proposed public funding for the network, which it has estimated could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion over the next decade, and recommended a "minimal public safety fee" tax on all broadband users.

The bill does not appear to contain any language about such a fee.

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