Sen. Lieberman and Sen. McCain Introduce D Block Bill

July 21, 2010. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced S 3625 [LOC | WW | PDF], the "First Responders Protection Act of 2010", a bill to license, not auction, the D Block for use by first responders, and to authorize the appropriation of $11 Billion to build and maintain a nationwide interoperable network for emergency communications.

Previously, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried, but failed, to structure spectrum usage in a way that would lead to a privately built interoperable public safety network, in the D Block component of the 700 MHz auction in 2008.

The D Block is 10 megahertz of paired spectrum (758-763 MHz and 788-793 MHz). The FCC's plan was to auction the D Block in the 700 MHz auction (the FCC's Auction No. 73) as one nationwide license, subject to a Public/Private Partnership. The plan was for a commercial licensee to build a nationwide broadband interoperable network for use by public safety entities. This licensee would then have had preemptible secondary access to the spectrum. The FCC closed this auction on March 18, 2008. However, no bidder bid the reserve price for the D Block.

The bill recites in its findings that "A wireless public safety broadband network is needed to guarantee priority access for public safety use and first responder interoperability across the United States", and that "Allocating the ... D Block, to public safety agencies is the only assured way of meeting public safety's needs for sufficient spectrum and would help reduce the complexity and future operating cost of public safety communications systems."

The bill provides that within 60 days of enactment the FCC "shall allocate" the D Block "for public safety broadband communications and shall license such paired bands to the public safety broadband licensee".

In addition, the FCC "shall establish regulations ... to ... authorize the shared use of the public safety broadband spectrum and network infrastructure by entities that are not defined as public safety services ... subject to requirements that public safety services retain priority access to the spectrum".

Sen. Joe LiebermanSen. Lieberman (at right) stated in the Senate that "the mobile device the average teenager carries has more capability" than the devices of first responders, and that "public safety communicates on slices of scattered spectrum that prevent interoperable communications among agencies and jurisdictions, and that do not allow the large data transmissions that we take for granted in today's commercial communications". See, Congressional Record, July 21, 2010, at page S6082.

He said that this bill "will set aside the so-called D Block of spectrum for public safety entities and provide them the bandwidth they need to communicate effectively in an emergency".

He continued that this bill "will ensure that the D Block is licensed to the same public safety broadband licensee that currently holds the license for 10 MHz in the 700 MHz band. The bill would also provide up to $5.5 billion for a construction fund to assist with the costs of constructing networks and up to $5.5 billion for an operation and maintenance fund for long-term maintenance of networks. These funds would come from revenues generated by the auction of a different band of spectrum to commercial carriers."

Sen. McCain stated in the Senate that "In 2007, I introduced legislation to auction the remaining public safety spectrum to a commercial carrier that would then build out a network for public safety. The FCC held such an auction, but no bidder met the reserve price. Ten megahertz of spectrum remains available for public safety's needs. The FCC has announced its intention auction this spectrum to a commercial provider. Once this spectrum is auctioned, it will be impossible to ever get it back. That is why Congress must act now and provide the remaining spectrum directly to public safety. This legislation would do just that."

For more on the failed D Block auction, see:

The FCC adopted and released a 2ndFNPRM [101 pages in PDF] on May 14, 2008. It is FCC 08-128 in WT Docket No. 06-150 and PS Docket No. 06-229.

See also, story titled "Genachowski Proposes Public Safety Use of Entire 700 MHz Band" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,051, February 25, 2010.