Lawmaker reiterates call to give D Block to public safety

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) reintroduced legislation that would allocate the D Block of the 700 MHz band directly to public safety, instead of auctioning it as the FCC has proposed. The Rockefeller proposal has split the wireless industry, with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) supporting his position and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and smaller carriers opposing the idea.   

Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said his legislation is identical to a bill he put forward in the last session of Congress, which was not acted on. The fate of the legislation is uncertain, since some House Republicans are reportedly in favor of the FCC's position. Rockefeller said that with the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaching, creating a nationwide, interoperable, public-safety broadband network is a "national priority."

In addition to the D-Block provision, the legislation also authorizes the FCC to conduct incentive auctions for TV broadcast spectrum. The FCC has said it hopes to get up to 120 MHz of spectrum from the auctions for mobile broadband use, and the airwaves represent a significant chunk of the 300 MHz the commission hopes to free up over the next five years. The bill said some of the revenue from these auctions could be used to build the public-safety network.

Both AT&T and Verizon issued statements praising the legislation. Sprint and T-Mobile are a part of a coalition called Connect Public Safety Now, which is lobbying lawmakers to approve a re-auction of the spectrum, with the proceeds going toward building out the public-safety network. The battle over the D Block has essentially pitted the two companies that reaped the lion's share of the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction in 2008 (AT&T and Verizon, which are using the spectrum for their LTE networks) against the companies that did not (Sprint and T-Mobile).

The FCC has argued that a re-auction will significantly help defray the costs of building the network. An FCC spokesman, Rob Kenny, declined to comment on the legislation. "There are active discussions under way among lawmakers," he told FierceWireless. "We are engaged in those discussions, and will continue to serve a a resource to lawmakers as they assess their options and make decisions on how they would like to move forward."

In a separate but related move, the FCC voted Tuesday to require first responders to use LTE technology for their new wireless broadband networks. The commission voted 5-0 to adopt the new rules, and is also seeking comment on interoperability, coverage requirements, security and encryption, and interference prevention.

For more:
- see this National Journal article
- see these two The Hill article

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