House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden
(R-Ore.) says that the country can auction D-block spectrum and still give
first responders the interoperable emergency communications network they need.
He pledges to make that happen.
In an op ed published Monday in B&C and Multichannel News,
he says that debate has become "mired in a false choice between providing
for commercial users and providing for our nation's first responders." He
says Congress is ready to help those first responders better manage and
coordinate their existing spectrum allocation, but asks: "Does it make
sense to give that community even more spectrum from the D-block? Or would it
be better utilized elsewhere in the marketplace where the need appears greater,
if the natural disasters of late are any indicator?"
Now that the DTV transition is complete, he writes,
public safety should be able to use the spectrum already set aside for it in
the 2005 DTV Transition and Public Safety Act.
Walden was putting in a plug for his spectrum legislation,
which would auction the D-block to commercial users, saying that is the way to
"kick-start" the economy. "To do otherwise would cost federal taxpayers
the $2.7 billion the Congressional Budget Office has attributed to auction of
the D-block. That's money that we need right now to reduce the deficit."
While police and fire chiefs have been pushing for
allocation, Walden suggested they should be focused on the spectrum they have already
been given by Congress. "A few public safety officials have started using some
portions of the 24 MHz," he says. "They are not doing so in a nationally
coordinated fashion, however. They are also using some of that spectrum for
old-fashioned, narrowband voice networks. The sooner all first responders start
fully utilizing the spectrum, as well as migrate from narrowband voice to
broadband, the better."
As he has said before, Walden makes clear he thinks the
commercial sector needs more spectrum and should get it. "If we want the
innovation that has put the Internet in the palm of your hand to both continue
for the commercial sector and embrace public safety users, Congress must
address the need for additional spectrum for commercial networks and development
of the existing 24 MHz for first responders," he says, pledging to make
The incentive auction legislation currently being
proposed in the president's jobs bill, based on the Senate version from Jay
Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), would allocate the D-block, rather than auction. It is
supported by various first responder groups. Whether allocated or auctioned,
the eventual network in either bill would be paid for with proceeds from the
auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed by the government.
Creating the interoperable network was one of the
recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Rockefeller has pushed to get a bill
passed by the tenth anniversary of the attacks, indicating it was shameful and
inexplicable that it has not been done.