Subcommittee Discusses Use of Spectrum with Public Safety and Industry Experts

April 12, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today held a hearing to examine the use of spectrum to expand broadband access, advance public safety, create jobs, and lower the deficit. Slade Gorton, former U.S. Senator and member of the 9/11 Commission, and Charles Dowd, Deputy Chief of the New York Police Department's Communications Division, discussed options to provide spectrum for public safety.  Industry experts also provided input on ways to extend the reach of broadband.

"The work we began today on spectrum issues can help us extend the reach of broadband, meet the needs of public safety, create jobs, reduce the deficit, and allow the economics of the spectrum market to permit innovation to flourish across all spectrum-based services," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

Walden said, "Spectrum is a critical input for broadcast television, wireless voice and broadband services, and public safety communications. Today we began discussing how we will get the next wave of spectrum deployed. Some advocate allocating the D Block to public safety. Others say it should be auctioned to meet our growing commercial wireless needs, and that funding -not spectrum -is the key to creating the nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network we all seek. Another potential is "˜incentive auctions,' in which current FCC licensees can volunteer to relinquish some or all of their spectrum in exchange for a portion of auction proceeds."

Dowd urged the subcommittee to reallocate the D block to provide a network dedicated to public safety and explained that "broadband on 700 band spectrum would allow us to seamlessly interoperable on all levels, local, state, and federal."  Meanwhile, Gorton testified that auctioning "the D Block to the private sector will reduce the deficit, empower huge investments in new technology and job creation, and will meet the very real needs of our vital public safety sector."

President and CEO of U.S. Cellular Mary Dillon expressed support for a commercial auction of the D block, saying "An arrangement in which commercial operators construct and operate the shared network at their expense and then work in partnership with regional public safety governing bodies to ensure interoperability and prioritization of use for the first responder community represents a unique and fiscally sound middle ground solution."

The subcommittee also examined the use of incentive auctions. "Incentive auctions can present a win-win-win for broadband users existing licensees, and the U.S. Treasury," explained Upton. "Such auctions would allow the FCC to share the proceeds from the auction of spectrum that current licensees voluntarily return."

The Brattle Group Principal Coleman Bazelon testified, "An incentive auction would be expected to raise about $20 billion for deficit reduction or for other priorities Congress may have, such as funding a public safety network." 

FCC Chief for the Office of Engineering and Technology Julius Knapp explained that if more spectrum is not made available, the consequences for consumers will be "dropped calls, slow data rates, services that don't work very well and as the carriers are likely to respond with setting higher prices for consumption, consumer prices will go up."

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