NEWS

Obama: We'll Raise $10.7 Billion for First Responder Communications

By Joseph Straw

The White House hopes to spend more than $10 billion on a dedicated national frequency spectrum band and network that will support voice and data traffic for first responders, President Obama announced this week.

The plan is part of the White House’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Intitiative, which he pitched Thursday during a speech at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.

"We’re going to accelerate breakthroughs in health and education and transportation, and deploy a new nationwide, interoperable wireless network for first responders -– making sure they’ve got the funding and the frequencies that they were promised and that they need to keep us safe," the President said.

Under the Obama plan, the federal government would sell private companies the rights to radio frequency spectrum freed up by 2008’s national switch from analog to digital television transmission. The money raised would then pay for the so-called “D block” segment in the 700 MHz band for first-responder use, as well as achieve other administration goals.

"By selling private companies the rights to these airwaves, we won’t just encourage private investment and expand wireless access," Obama said, "we’re actually going to bring in revenues that lower our deficits."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to auction off D-Block in 2008 to wireless providers on the condition that they build up network infrastructure for priority use by first responders, but the auction failed to command the minimum required bid. As the FCC approached a scheduled second auction this year, first responders and their advocates in Congress called for the federal government to allocate the band to first responders outright.

White House-supported legislation (.pdf) introduced by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, would do just that by overriding the FCC’s authority on the matter.

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