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Update: Rockefeller to introduce spectrum bill; gives more airwaves to public safety

Update: with quotes from T-Mobile, Verizon

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV.) said Wednesday he plans to introduce a bill aimed to advance federal objectives to create more robust high-speed wireless networks for consumers and better emergency communications systems.

Rockefeller said that in coming days he will announce the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act that allows the Federal Communications Commission to hold voluntary auctions for airwaves held currently by broadcasters that would give those firms a cut of the auction awards.

The FCC has proposed incentive auctions to appease broadcasters, who have resisted handing over airwaves that they say are a valuable resource for future business models.

Rockefeller’s bill will also provide public safety officials with an additional 10 megahertz of radiowaves to support a troubled and years-long attempt to create an interoperable high-speed wireless network for fire, police and paramedics who respond first to natural and other disasters.

“This spectrum allocation will provide those who wear the shield with the resources they need to do their jobs,” Rockefeller said. “But more than that, by providing authority for incentive auctions, this legislation will offer a revenue stream to assist public safety with the construction and development of their network.”

The allotment of 10 megahertz could cancel Federal Communicaitons Commision's proposal to auction those airwaves to a private partner to public safety officials, who would help finance the buildout of an expensive network the agency estimates could cost more than $20 billion with help from Congress.

Senior offiicials at the FCC said legislation for incentive auctions will help realize their national broadband goals, which was supported by the White House last month. They said in a press conference, however, that they couldn't confirm whether Rockefeller's legislation would mean the end of their public safety plan.

But T-Mobile and smaller wireless carriers who had advocated for the FCC plan, say giving the spectrum to public safety would fail to provide more competition in the LTE 4G market, which it is trying to enter. T-Mobile wanted to bid on that spectrum in an auction.

"With the exception of AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile and other wireless carriers agree with the FCC that the best way to build public safety the national network it needs in all of Amemirca is through the auction ... to commercial carriers," said Tom Sugrue, vice president for government affairs at T-Mobile, the nation's fourth largest commercial wireless carriers.

Verizon praised Rockefeller's bill and a similar bill for public safety wireless resources introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).

"The American people deserve to know our first responders have the resources, including wireless spectrum, they need to protect us," said Verizon general counsel Steve Zipperstein.

By Cecilia Kang  |  July 21, 2010; 1:11 PM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC , T-Mobile , Verizon  
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Comments

Steve Zipperstein, Verizon Wireless vice president and general counsel:

“Chairman Rockefeller’s approach brings to life President Obama’s goal of harnessing 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband innovation through open and non-discriminatory auctions, while carving out a small portion – just two percent of the total – to meet public safety’s needs.

“We applaud Chairman Rockefeller’s call for 10 MHz of spectrum in the D-Block on which to build a national, interoperable wireless broadband network dedicated to ensuring our nation’s safety. The American people deserve to know our first responders have the resources, including wireless spectrum, they need to protect us.

“We also support the Chairman’s proposal for open auctions of additional spectrum that will maximize the financial benefit to American taxpayers while creating new opportunities for technological innovation.”

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