Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has introduced a bill directing the FCC to move forward with its plans to auction off unused broadcast spectrum and promote the deployment of a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety.

Rockefeller, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, called spectrum a "very valuable" and "scarce" resource in a statement about the proposed legislation, called the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.

"It can enhance our public safety by fostering communications between first responders when the unthinkable occurs," he said. "That is why we need forward-thinking spectrum policy that promotes smart use of our airwaves – and provides public safety officials with the wireless resources they need to keep us safe."

The bill was first announced late last month and is closely aligned with the FCC's public safety proposals laid out in the National Broadband Plan.

If passed, the legislation would allocate 10 MHz of D-Block spectrum to public safety, direct the FCC to develop interoperability standards and allow public safety officials to lease capacity on their network to outside agencies, including commercial operators like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

The bill also allows existing spectrum holders to voluntarily give their spectrum to the FCC in exchange for a portion of the proceeds it fetches at auction. The funds from the auctions would help fund the construction and maintenance of the public safety network.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski advanced a similar measure earlier this year but was met with heavy criticism from broadcasters, who feared they would be forced to give up their spectrum. The bill proposed by Rockefeller precludes the FCC from forcibly reclaiming spectrum licenses.

Steve Zipperstein, vice president and general counsel of Verizon Wireless, applauded the legislation. "By providing the financial resources required to build a world-class, interoperable wireless system from the proceeds of new wireless spectrum auctions, Senator Rockefeller aligns the three critical requirements for success: spectrum, funding and infrastructure."

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