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Senators Hutchison and Rockefeller detail D-block plan

Sens. Rockfeller, Huchison

In another effort to move forward their plan for a national wireless broadband communications network for first responders, the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee explained their complex strategy for the network, which includes several spectrum auctions and a government-run company that would operate like a commercial wireless carrier to manage the network.

In an op-ed article for the Houston Chronicle on June 15, Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said their bill would directly allocate “D-Block” spectrum to first responders “without costing taxpayers a dime.”

Rockefeller and Hutchison contend their bill, S. 911, would generate enough revenue to fully offset construction costs for the first responder network. The bill uses unwanted spectrum given up voluntarily by television, radio and Internet providers, to foot the bill. The returned spectrum would be re-auctioned to commercial wireless broadband providers in exchange for a portion of the proceeds through incentive auctions, they said.

Rockfeller and Hutchison said the resulting incentive auctions could clear as much as 120 megahertz of spectrum for new wireless broadband services and raise more than $28 billion cash for the government. The bill would also task the Federal Communications Commission with the auction of another 120 MHz of government spectrum that might appeal to commercial wireless broadband services. It would also allocate another 120 MHz for unlicensed uses, clearing the way for “substantial innovation and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic growth,” they said.

Under the proposal, "D block" spectrum would be directly allocated to public safety and paired with other public-safety spectrum to establish the nationwide public-safety broadband network. They noted that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the allocation would cost approximately $3 billion, which will be covered by funds raised by incentive auctions. The legislation would earmark $12 billion from the auction proceeds to deploy and maintain the first responder network, with additional funds going to support technology research and development for it.

Excess funds from the expected $28 billion in revenue  -  which Rockefeller and Hutchison said could be as much as $10 billion  -  would be used to reduce the deficit, “without requiring any additional taxpayer dollars.”

The legislation would also establish a nonprofit corporation to build and oversee the network and insure its seamless operation nationwide. The corporation would “leverage existing infrastructure to hold down costs, said the senators, and would be modeled after commercial wireless carriers. It would also use commercial vendors to build, operate and maintain the network.

“There is a robust structure in place to ensure significant input from state and local public-safety entities as well as oversight by the federal government,” they said. “The corporation will be led by a board of directors that includes private sector, public safety and state and local expertise. Most importantly, this governance structure is designed to be self-sustaining, so it will not require funding through annual appropriations.”