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Senate Committee Passes Public Safety Spectrum Bill

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WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a deficit reducing measure Wednesday to reallocate the D-Block spectrum to public safety and gain federal funding to realize a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

The measure, known as the Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization (SPECTRUM) Act of 2011, is seen by proponents as a way to both reduce the federal deficit and honor first responders who lost their lives due to communications network failures during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The D-Block is a 10 MHz section of broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency range and is highly sought after by mobile broadband carriers as the optimal frequency for their communications networks to operate on.

The bill would establish a framework that would give public safety professionals a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network on par with private sector network by reallocating D-Block spectrum to public safety. It would also direct the FCC to establish standards on how public safety officials would lease capacity to non-public safety entities with ability to reclaim the network when needed for public safety use.

“As I’ve made clear, passing this bill is my top priority this year. This bill marries smart spectrum policy with good public policy,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “We can bring first responders’ communications capability into the 21st century. We can give them the ability to share and disseminate information quickly, including fingerprints, floor plans of burning buildings and photos and videos, instantly."

The bill would also keep the option of voluntary incentive auctions on the table by providing the FCC with incentive auction authority. Voluntary incentive auctions allow for private stakeholders to elect to auction all or part of their licensed spectrum in exchange for a portion of the auction proceeds.  The bill would direct the estimated $10 billion of surplus revenue from spectrum auctions to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.

Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), echoed Rockefeller’s call for improved spectrum policy and an improved public safety nationwide communications network in what both members called a bipartisan agreement.

“Our bill will spur job creation, generate hundreds of billions in economic activity, and drive research and development while bringing down the national deficit.”

Onlookers greeted the 21-4 vote of approval as a step in the right direction for the D-Block spectrum. In addition to deficit reduction and public safety communications innovation, a looming spectrum crunch concerns the private sector and government alike.

“This action couldn’t come soon enough. Cisco recently projected that the “traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2015,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra on the White House Blog.

Others are merely satisfied that action is being taken to move legislation forward on the issue. In a statement by the Public Safety Alliance released on the day before the meeting, PSA spokesman Chief Christopher Moore expressed urgency in his desire to see the bill move forward.

“It’s long overdue for this bill to move out of committee," said Moore.. "The votes [at the hearing] will demonstrate who believes the safety of the American people is what’s most important in this debate.”

Josh Peterson is a DC-based journalist with a professional writing portfolio that includes work on US foreign policy and international affairs, telecom policy and cyber security, religion, arts, and music. He is currently a journalism intern at The National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. and a former tech and social media intern at The Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship. Peterson received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and religion with a minor concentration in music from Hillsdale College in 2008. When he is not writing, Peterson lives a double life as a web designer, social media strategist, photographer, musician and mixed martial artist.

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