Spectrum legislation tied to public safety communications

One of the side effects of the spectrum legislation expected to be approved this week by the Senate Commerce Committee could provide desperately needed funds for the creation of a national emergency communications system.

Congress has repeatedly tried to create such a system for first responders since the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001. The new legislation attempts to address that issue while at the same time promoting voluntary auctions for broadcaster-controlled spectrum.

Indeed, the bill is called the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, which is sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-WV. After broadcasters are paid for their spectrum, additional money from the auction will be provided for building the emergency network.

“It’s embarrassing that any teenager with a smartphone has more communications capability than our firefighters, police officers and EMTs,” Rockefeller said. “It’s time we finally fulfill one of the last major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and give our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.”

Rockefeller’s staff noted that the legislation gives the FCC the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum. “The funds raised by these incentive auctions will be billions beyond what is needed to pay for building the public safety network. Excess funds — to the tune of $10 billion — will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit.”

The Senate Commerce Committee has reportedly scheduled an executive committee meeting for May 25, where it is expected to mark up the legislation. The goal is to approve the bill before the Memorial Day recess, which begins on May 27. Rockefeller has promised that the spectrum auction for broadcasters will be voluntary.