Much-anticipated bipartisan legislation that would reallocate the 700 MHz “D Block” spectrum to public safety and provide $12 billion to fund the buildout of first-responder LTE networks nationwide was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Commerce Committee, setting the stage for a full Senate vote on the bill this summer, reports Urgent Communications.
Committee members voted 21-4 in favor of the legislation sponsored by Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who have worked together closely on the initiative, which Rockefeller reiterated is his “top priority” before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The legislation would allocate 10 megahertz of spectrum to public safety and some $10 billion to build a parallel, dedicated public service network. Funding would be provided by the proceeds of spectrum auctions, including those of airwaves that TV broadcasters would return to the government in exchange for financial compensation, known as incentive auctions.
Beltway sources believe the legislation has good prospects for approval in the Senate, but many expect passage will be much more difficult in the House, where newly elected fiscal conservatives are expressing concern about the costs associated with the legislation at a time when the national budget deficit has become a focal point.
Under the legislation, a “Public Safety Broadband Corporation” (PSBC) would serve as the spectrum licensee and governing body to help ensure interoperability between users of the broadband networks. The PSBC would replace the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) as the licensee for existing public safety’s 700 MHz broadband spectrum, which would be coupled with the adjacent D Block to support the LTE networks.
Since this network would not be available to consumers, taxpayers, not commercial operators, will be footing the bill under the Rockefeller legislation. It’s still debatable whether this approach will provide better or worse service for public safety users.
The main problem is money. The cellular density required for a nationwide, dedicated broadband public service network is going to cost a huge amount of money.
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