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White House supports D block reallocation to public safety

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The Obama administration will now support efforts to grant public safety license to a 10 megahertz swath of spectrum known as the D block, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Jan. 27.

Napolitano spoke at George Washington University, delivering what she said was the first of an annual address on the state of homeland security. The Federal Communications Commission is under congressional mandate to auction the D block, which is located in the 700 MHz band, with the proviso that the commercial licensee give public safety priority access to the band during emergencies.

Many public safety groups have said that without them controlling the D block license, plans for a national broadband wireless network won't come to fruition. The FCC's position has been that public safety's existing 10 MHz broadband license in the 700 MHz band is sufficient and that failure to hold an auction would make network unattainably expensive for many public safety agencies. The FCC has envisioned growth of a private sector market for end-user devices that would be compatible with the D block and public safety's existing 10 MHz license.

If that market doesn't materialize, due to there being no customers, costs of building out the network infrastructure would increase by billions of dollars, and that would "create a patchwork system across the country of haves and have-nots," said James Barnett, chief of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, speaking June 17 before a  congressional panel. "Perhaps some big cities may be able to afford it. Most rural areas will not," he added.

Napolitano in her remarks didn't delve into such issues. Attaining congressional approval to allocate the D block to first responders might not be difficult since high-profile members including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supported legislation introduced in 2010 that would have done so.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) reintroduced Jan. 25 a bill that would strip the FCC of its requirement to auction the D block and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) released a Jan. 27 statement supporting Napolitano's announcement.

However, House Republicans, concerned about the loss of revenue canceling the D block auction would cause, could prove more skeptical, according to a Jan. 27 Politico article.

For more:
- read our additional coverage on Napolitano's state of homeland security address
- read the text of Napolitano's speech
go to King's statement on Napolitano's announcement

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