Dem doubts prospects of D Block in committee's bill

Building a nationwide broadband network is a top priority for public safety officials because it would allow them to communicate using video and data during emergencies. It would also help first-responders from different agencies communicate with each other.

The D Block is a prime chunk of spectrum, or airwaves, and public safety officials say it should be used to build their network. But critics of giving the D Block to public safety argue that the spectrum could be leased to higher bidders to raise more revenue for the government. They say public safety agencies should be given other spectrum bands for their network.

"We all recognize that we need a nationwide interoperable public safety network," Eshoo said. "How that is handled, whether the D Block is dedicated, or whether it's handled in a different way, there's a difference of opinion there."

She said she does not know when the committee will vote on the spectrum legislation and that negotiations are continuing. 

"I don't think this is going to be resolved in our discussions leading up to markup, and that's ok," she said. "We will, I believe, offer an amendment. We may not make it on our side, but there has to be an agreement that we debate this on the floor, and I believe we will win there."

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a spectrum bill that would allocate the D Block to public safety in June, but the legislation has not come up for a vote in the full Senate.

Eshoo made the comments after a tour of Washington, D.C.'s 911 call center. She is a promoting a bill that she introduced with Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) that would provide funding to local governments to help them implement next-generation 911 technology, such as accepting emergency text messages or videos.  

She said she hopes to fold her next-generation 911 measure into the committee's spectrum legislation.

"Our systems really need to keep up with the technology," Eshoo said. "There is a need across the country, and of course local governments are really pressed and pressed hard given the economics of the nation right now."