The Republican leadership on the House Communications
Committee continues to have questions about whether government should give more
spectrum to first responders rather than trying to re-auction it.
That came in an internal memo to staffers in advance of
tomorrow's hearing on public safety communications. The memo lays out cases for
and against allocation, but House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred
Upton is among those who have continued to argue for an auction.
Several bills in both the House and Senate currently
recommend allocating 10 MHz of spectrum reclaimed in the digital transition to
an interoperable emergency communications network, paid for by auctions of more
broadcast spectrum to wireless companies.
While Republicans agree on the goal of creating the
emergency communications network, some House Republicans are concerned about a
number of issues, including that with spectrum and billions already allocated
to emergency communications there is no national system yet in place.
"While we all share the goal of creating a
nationwide interoperable public safety network, questions remain about how to
achieve it. In the ten years since September 11, 2001, Congress has allocated
$13 billion and cleared 24 MHz of spectrum nationwide for public safety use,
yet First Responders still do not have ubiquitous interoperable voice
communications and scant few, if any, have interoperable broadband," says
The memo points out that the Congressional Budget Office
has already counted the $3 billion expected to come from auctioning the D
block, and so allocating it would add some $3 billion to deficit "at a
time when neither our committee nor the Congress has a penny to spare," it
The memo also points out that the FCC's National
Broadband Plan proposed re-auctioning the D block, and that "[FCC]
Chairman Julius Genachowski continues to stand by that recommendation."
But there seems to be some disagreement on that point.
While the FCC was backing re-auctioning, the White House has come out in favor
of allocation, and more recently the chairman has said he is interested in
whatever can get the spectrum most rapidly to emergency responders. And then
there is Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), whose
bill would allocate the spectrum, and who is one of the most ardent fans of
allocation. He told reporters two weeks ago that he has assurances from the FCC
that it is 100% behind allocating spectrum for the public safety network rather
than auctioning it for a public-private partnership.
The FCC tried once before to auction the spectrum, as
directed by Congress but failed to draw a minimum bid. Some argued that is
because of the build-out and other requirements it put on the auction.
The Senate Commerce Committee plans to mark up Rockefeller's
allocation bill June, and the senator has said he wants to try to get it to the
President's desk before the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
An FCC official speaking on background said that the
chairman has indicated he supports an auction, but that he also supports
freeing up more spectrum and the incentive auction for broadcasters that will
help do that, which are also part of the Rockefeller bill package. It is that
package the FCC can get behind given the key goal of getting the interoperable
network built and funded, the source indicated.