Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today voted unanimously to send a bill to the House floor that would expand the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and would dedicate $10 billion from a future auction to fund the transition of emergency call centers to IP, next-generation 911 (NG911) technology.
Rep. Frank Pallone (DN.J.), chair of the committee, noted that HR 7624 — the “Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022” — continues to require the FCC to auction at least 200 MHz of spectrum in Band 3 ,1-3.45GHz. . Proceeds from this auction would fill the funding gap for the “rip and replace” initiative to rid US networks of equipment from China-based companies and provide NG911 funding nationwide.
However, the version of the bill that passed the committee also included a bill that would extend the FCC’s bidding authority — currently scheduled to expire at the end of September — for an additional 18 months.
Most Beltway sources view this language from the FCC’s auction authority as “must pass” legislation, as FCC auctions have historically generated hundreds of billions in revenue that Congress has used over the years. last three decades. As a result, all other elements that would remain attached to it when it is expected to be signed into law over the next 10 weeks are expected to pass, the sources say.
Pallone applauded the new version of the “Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022”.
“I believe that collectively these measures will generate billions of dollars in spectrum auction revenue to fund important and overdue policy priorities in a budget-neutral way,” Pallone said during the committee meeting.
A $10 billion federal fund for NG911 would dwarf all other federal funds previously earmarked for 911, which historically have been funded almost entirely with money generated at the state and local levels. However, the $10 billion requested in the bill passed by the committee is significantly less than the $15 billion that many public safety officials believe is necessary for the implementation of NG911, especially when the security needs are met. cybersecurity and training are taken into account.
Pallone said he will work to ensure funding for NG911 does not stop at the $10 billion level.
“In my view, the funds generated by this bill for Next Generation 911 should be viewed as an initial down payment for the program,” Pallone said.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) — committee member and co-founder of the Congressional NextGen 911 Caucus, echoed that sentiment.
“While I am delighted that this bill will allow up to $10 billion to be used for NG911, it is important to note that based on cost estimates, the true cost of a nationwide adoption of NG911 is closer to $10 billion,” Eshoo said at the committee meeting. “But $10 billion is more than a hell of a start.”
But the $10 billion for NG911 would not be fully guaranteed, even if the bill is approved by the House, Senate and President Joe Biden. This is because funding for NG911 depends on how much money bidders spend securing radio waves in the proposed 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum auction.
As approved by a House subcommittee in June, the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would have two years to identify at least 200 MHz of current federal spectrum in the 3.1-3.4 GHz band that the FCC could auction it as exclusive or shared use airwaves. The FCC would be required to conduct the auction within seven years of the enactment of HR 7624.
Proceeds from the auction would first be used to pay for spectrum incumbents’ relocation costs, with the next $3.4 billion allocated to fund the massive shortfall from the FCC’s “rip and replace” program, designed to rid US commercial networks of “untrusted” equipment – notably, equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.
Once these financial obligations are met, the $10 billion in proceeds from the proposed mid-band auction would be dedicated to funding the NG911 transition at 911 centers across the United States. Of course, this $10 billion funding could only be realized if the winning bids from the auction were large enough to cover all of the financial obligations cited in the legislation.
This idea of tying FCC auction revenue to NG911 funding was an idea publicly proposed by FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel in February, a fact that Pallone and other committee members acknowledged during the committee hearing.