Senators McCain and Lieberman want spectrum for first responders


Remember the “D-Block” portion of the former TV spectrum that the FCC failed to auction because no one would meet the $1.3 billion reserve price? Now Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have introduced legislation to make the FCC turn it over for use by police, firefighters and other first responders.

“It’s time to put first responders first.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a coast-to-coast communications network for our nation’s first responders that is secure, robust and resilient,” said Lieberman.

“As we approach the nine year commemoration of the horrific events on September 11th and the five year remembrance of the devastating tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, it is disgraceful that police officers, sheriffs and fire fighters still don’t have a nationwide interoperable communications system.  Our legislation provides the spectrum and funding to first responders, while being fiscally responsible and ensuring local control and conscientious governance,” said McCain.

Rather than have commercial interests bid to build a national wireless infrastructure which would be shared most of the time by public subscribers and designated first responders – but taken over completely by the first responders in an emergency – “The First Responders Protection Act of 2010” would allocate the D-Block to first responders rather than auction it. The bill would then require $5.5 billion from a different spectrum auction be allocated to build the network infrastructure – and yet another $5.5 billion in auction proceeds to help cover recurring maintenance and operational costs.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House by Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Yvette Clarke (D-NY). Unless the legislation passes, the FCC is scheduled to try again to auction the D-Block next year.

RBR-TVBR observation: We would note that Sen. McCain was one of the big backers of spectrum auctions, which we have always denounced as a bad idea. The FCC plan for the D-Block hatched by then-Chairman Kevin Martin (R) was simply not viable, as shown by the lack of bidding interest. If the intention is to build a network for first responders, the McCain-Lieberman approach certainly makes more sense.