Congress Looks To Borrow $2 Billion For Public Safety Net Grants

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Congress is proposing borrowing up to $2 billion from the Treasury to fund the construction of an interoperable public safety broadband network in the 700 MHz band. That is according to a draft of a bill that will be vetted at a House hearing this week.

The FCC for years has been trying to establish the network but failed to draw a minimum when it auctioned the D Block of spectrum set aside for a public-private public safety network partnership.

In its National Broadband Plan, the commission suggested Congress might want to step in to help fund the network rather than count on auctions alone.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration will administer the construction fund grants to public safety organizations and determine who should get them--much as it is doing with broadband stimulus grant money--while the FCC will establish an advisory board and handle a maintenance and operation fund, which will provide up to 50% of the ongoing costs of networks. Grantees will have to put up 20% of the cost of their networks.

The networks' construction fund will also get money--up to $5.5 billion--from spectrum auctions of at least 25 MHz of contiguous spectrum and the D Block spectrum.

The idea has been that commercial users would lease the spectrum it uses the vast majority of the time--the money from that would go into the operation and maintenance fund--with public safety taking over for their interoperable network(s) only in times of emergency.

The bill would require the $2 billion government loan to be repaid to the general treasury--without interest--by 2014. Anything above and beyond the $5.5 billion from the auctions for the construction fund--and the loan payback--will go to the maintenance and operation fund.

The FCC has a year to implement a rulemaking on the network, and a year to identify the spectrum to auction. It is also directed to conduct a study within five years to determine if more spectrum will be needed for public safety.

The commission, under then-chairman Kevin Martin, attempted to create that network via a public-private partnership but was unable to attract a bidder willing to put up the minimum bid for the so-called D-block in the 700 MHz auction.

In the broadband plan, the commission proposed public funding for the network, which it has estimated could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion over the next decade, and recommended a "minimal public safety fee" tax on all broadband users.

The bill does not appear to contain any language about such a fee.

Congress is proposing borrowing up to $2 billion from the Treasury to fund the construction of an interoperable public safety broadband network in the 700 MHz band. That is according to a draft of a bill that will be vetted at a House hearing this week.

The FCC for years has been trying to establish the network but failed to draw a minimum when it auctioned the D Block of spectrum set aside for a public-private public safety network partnership.

In its National Broadband Plan, the commission suggested Congress might want to step in to help fund the network rather than count on auctions alone.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration will administer the construction fund grants to public safety organizations and determine who should get them--much as it is doing with broadband stimulus grant money--while the FCC will establish an advisory board and handle a maintenance and operation fund, which will provide up to 50% of the ongoing costs of networks. Grantees will have to put up 20% of the cost of their networks.

The networks' construction fund will also get money--up to $5.5 billion--from spectrum auctions of at least 25 MHz of contiguous spectrum and the D Block spectrum.

The idea has been that commercial users would lease the spectrum it uses the vast majority of the time--the money from that would go into the operation and maintenance fund--with public safety taking over for their interoperable network(s) only in times of emergency.

The bill would require the $2 billion government loan to be repaid to the general treasury--without interest--by 2014. Anything above and beyond the $5.5 billion from the auctions for the construction fund--and the loan payback--will go to the maintenance and operation fund.

The FCC has a year to implement a rulemaking on the network, and a year to identify the spectrum to auction. It is also directed to conduct a study within five years to determine if more spectrum will be needed for public safety.

The commission, under then-chairman Kevin Martin, attempted to create that network via a public-private partnership but was unable to attract a bidder willing to put up the minimum bid for the so-called D-block in the 700 MHz auction.

In the broadband plan, the commission proposed public funding for the network, which it has estimated could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion over the next decade, and recommended a "minimal public safety fee" tax on all broadband users.

The bill does not appear to contain any language about such a fee.

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