Holder, State Attorneys General Issue Call for Public Safety Broadband Network

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Attorney General Eric Holder and 42 state attorneys general separately called on Congress Aug. 30 to allocate the 700 MHz D Block for the building of a nationwide emergency communications network.

In a speech to the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference, Holder underscored the importance of setting aside airwaves for public safety, especially in light of the earthquake and hurricane that had tested the resolve and resources of emergency first-responders on the East Coast in the previous week.

“So long as I am Attorney General, we will continue to advocate for meaningful, affordable access to radio spectrum when and where you need it,” Holder said. “And—for as long as it takes—we'll continue to bring policymakers together with leaders from law enforcement, the broader public safety community, and the telecommunications industry to make sure you have access to the resources you need.”

Holder appeared at a White House summit in June to rally support for a comprehensive and far-reaching Senate bill, which is now awaiting floor action.

That bill—the aptly numbered S. 911, championed by Commerce Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)—would not only allocate the D Block for the building of a public safety broadband network, but would also authorize the Federal Communications Commission to hold voluntary “incentive auctions” of spectrum, in which television broadcasters, who license spectrum through the FCC, could release some of it back to the government in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds.

The final debt ceiling deal did not include language approving the FCC's use of incentive auctions, but some now see an opportunity.

Super Committee Members.

Two chairmen of legislative panels with jurisdiction over spectrum issues are among the lawmakers who have been named to the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction: Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. However, Upton disagrees with Rockefeller on what to do with the D Block; Upton favors auctioning it off to mobile network operators and using the proceeds—estimated at as much as $4 billion—to help fund the construction and maintenance of the network.

“As we look to the future, we must continue to cooperate, to advocate, and to raise awareness about the fact that we can fight crime more successfully, we can secure our homeland more reliably, and we can protect our fellow citizens and our first responders more effectively by ensuring that public safety officers have access to the latest technologies and the best information-sharing techniques available,” Holder added.

State AGs Urge Action Before Sept. 11.

Separately, 42 state attorneys general urged Congress to allocate the D Block for public safety, while not supporting any one piece of legislation.

“Rather…in the spirit of bipartisanship, the nation's attorneys general urge you to protect citizens across all our states by ensuring that the public safety professionals who have committed to serve and protect can effectively communicate with one another in the face of a dire emergency or attack,” the state AGs wrote in a letter sent from the National Associations of Attorneys General.

The attorneys general called on congressional leaders to take action before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which has been Rockefeller's goal.

“Nothing could be more appropriate than marking this solemn anniversary by making a genuine commitment to public safety communication, for this and future generations,” the AGs added. “Ultimately, reallocation of the spectrum use should benefit consumers by lowering transaction costs and increasing communication industries, all while supporting law enforcement and increasing public safety. The importance of designating the D-Block spectrum for law enforcement simply cannot be overstated.”

By Paul Barbagallo

For the text of Holder's speech, visit http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2011/ag-speech-110830.html .

For the AGs' letter, visit http://www.ct.gov/ag/lib/ag/press_releases/2011/naag082611.pdf .