Let’s Make 2011 Great
This was a very good year for Public Safety’s push for adding the D Block to the already allocated 700-MHz broadband spectrum that is licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The Public Safety community came together in 2010 like never before with the PSST, APCO, Major City Chiefs, IACP, IAFC, NSA, NPSTC, and other organizations working hand-in-hand with a common goal to have the D Block reallocated.
These organizations and others formed the Public Safety Alliance and together have made great progress on Capitol Hill. A year ago, the FCC and Congress thought Public Safety would simply roll over and accept the part of the National Broadband Plan that recommended that the D Block be auctioned and that the proceeds be used to fund the build-out of the PSST spectrum. This perception changed rapidly when the Public Safety community came together and swarmed the Hill, held a series of meetings with the FCC from the Chairman to many of the staffers, and over the year gained support from some strong voices in both the House and the Senate.
Support for the PSA includes twenty-five Public Safety organizations and nine state and government associations including The National Governors Association, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, and others. Five other national associations including the Communication Workers of America, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the National Association of State Technology Directors have voiced their support. The Public Safety and wireless industry support includes more than twelve companies and many others that are supportive but not in a position to publically state their position at this time.
Thanks to all of this support, three bills were introduced in Congress. The first was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Peter King of New York (HR5081) and it called for the D Block to be reallocated to Public Safety but did not provide any federal funding to build out the network. Next was a bill co-sponsored by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (I-CT). This bill (S3625) also called for reallocation of the D Block to Public Safety and did provide some funding for the network build-out and ongoing operating expenses. The final bill (S3756), which turned out to be the most important, was introduced by Senator Rockefeller (D-WV). This bill also called for reallocation of the D Block to Public Safety and provides for funding for building the network and ongoing operating expenses from future spectrum auctions.
The King bill ended up with 81 sponsors, and the Rockefeller bill went the furthest with hearings being held. However, none of these bills were acted upon and they will have to be reintroduced in 2011. It is hoped that the Rockefeller bill, with some changes, can be used for both the Senate and the House bills. It is important that both bills be almost identical or they will have to be reconciled after each is passed. If Public Safety can get this done early in the year, we stand a very good chance of these bills being passed into law. The issue is that some Republications in the house, including one new committee chair, are still in favor of auctioning the D Block to raise funds to build the Public Safety network using only the 10 MHz already allocated to Public Safety.
Public Safety has a lot to do on the Hill and I believe it can build on 2010’s momentum. It plans to woo the new Senators and Representatives and to focus on the two Representatives who are not inclined to reallocate the spectrum. I have not mentioned either name in this article as their positions are known but have not been publically stated, and I don’t think it fair to name them until the Public Safety community decides how to approach them to change their minds.
One of the best indications of how much influence the united Public Safety community has had in Congress this year is the stepped-up campaign by what was previously called The Coalition for 4G. This organization, led primarily by T-Mobile with support from Sprint/Nextel, the Rural Cellular Association, and others, is lobbying hard for the D Block to be auctioned, yet they have not stepped up and stated for the record exactly how they would work with Public Safety. As the proposed auction rules now stand, they could come in, win the spectrum, and totally ignore the Public Safety community. (my article here)
In its end-of-year blitz on the Congress and the FCC, this group has renamed itself “Connect Public Safety Now” and hired a number of “experts” with plenty of degrees and credits on their resumes that are designed to impress those who don’t understand the issues, and it has hired and ex-APCO President-turned-consultant to add the appearance of knowledge about Public Safety’s needs. Most recently, it held a press conference and presented its views at the Press Club in Washington, DC. The fact that it is ramping up its campaign for the auction of the D Block proves to me more than anything else that Public Safety is gaining support in the Executive Branch, in Congress, and even with some in the FCC although the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau remains firm in its belief that the D Block should be auctioned. This in itself is strange since the PSHSB is not charged with working with commercial spectrum and is supposed to be assisting Public Safety in providing additional communications capabilities.
Next year will be the turning point for Public Safety—I know it and I think those in Congress who are opposed to the reallocation of the D Block are becoming aware of it. I don’t understand how anyone in a position of authority can be against giving Public Safety the communications tools it needs and fixing the interoperability issues that have plagued Public Safety not merely since they came to light during 9/11 and Katrina, but for thirty years pervious to that as well. It is hard to imagine that any representative of the people elected by the people would oppose something that will save lives and property, and for the first time give the Public Safety community the spectrum it needs to bring its communications systems into the 21st century.
In September we will honor those who lost their lives in 9/11 ten years ago. If I were a member of Congress, I would want to be able to stand up on that day and say that while it took ten years, the Federal Government has finally provided the spectrum and funding the Public Safety community needs to move forward and to have the same capabilities every iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android smartphone user has today.
As for me, I am enjoying working with the Public Safety community once again. I have learned a lot, hopefully contributed, and made some great new friends. I intend to redouble my efforts in 2011 and hope you will too, and that you will ask all of your friends to contact their Congressional Representatives and urge them to work with Public Safety on the passage of this bill.
My goal as I look forward to 2011 is to sit in the audience watching as our President, flanked by members of the Public Safety community, signs onto the reallocation of the D Block and the funding mechanisms for some of the network and ongoing operational costs. I want to be there to celebrate before we turn to the task of building out the network and making sure that all those in the Public Safety community have access to the information they need, when they need it, regardless of where they are.
On a different note, I wish all of you a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Healthy and Safe New Year. Let’s Make 2011 the Year Public Safety is awarded the D Block and funding!
Andrew M. Seybold