Some in Congress think ‘D-Block’ spectrum should be auctioned to commercial users

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said in an op-ed article published this week that the nation could auction D-block spectrum and still provide first responders with the emergency communications network they need.

The debate, Walden argued, has become “mired in a false choice between providing for commercial users and providing for our nation’s first responders.” Now that the DTV transition is complete, he wrote, public safety should be able to use the spectrum already set aside for it in the 2005 DTV Transition and Public Safety Act.

To auction the D-block to commercial users, Walden said, is a way to “kick-start” the economy.

“To do otherwise would cost federal taxpayers the $2.7 billion the Congressional Budget Office has attributed to auction of the D-block,” Walden said. “That’s money that we need right now to reduce the deficit.”

While emergency responders have been pushing for allocation, Walden suggested they should be focused on the spectrum they have already been given by Congress.

“A few public safety officials have started using some portions of the 24 MHz,” he said. “They are not doing so in a nationally coordinated fashion, however. They are also using some of that spectrum for old-fashioned, narrowband voice networks.

“The sooner all first responders start fully utilizing the spectrum, as well as migrate from narrowband voice to broadband, the better.”

Walden also thinks the commercial sector needs more spectrum and should get it.

“Congress must address the need for additional spectrum for commercial networks and development of the existing 24 MHz for first responders,” he said.

Walden has locked horns with the U. S. Senate on the issue. The incentive auction legislation currently being proposed in the president’s jobs bill, based on the Senate version from Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would allocate the D-block, rather than auction. The first responder groups support the Senate legislation.

Whether allocated or auctioned, the eventual network in either bill would be paid for with proceeds from the auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed by the government.