Here at RedState I always hesitate before I praise a proposal by a Democrat. This is a site committed to achieving conservative aims through the Republican party, and I agree with that commitment. But once in a while, on issues less politically charged, a Democrat will come up with something reasonable. This is one of those times.
I’ve looked at the issue, thought about the consequences, and I can’t find any reason to oppose the efforts by Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat that he is, to set aside for public safety use the so-called D block of wireless frequencies, efforts he also made last year. We learned on 9/11 that in a crisis we need different public safety groups to be able to talk to each other. It’s not enough to let them go on their own. We see similar issues every time there’s a major wildfire in the west, when expert teams congregate from throughout the region.
It’s important for emergency response teams to be able to coordinate. Some say we’d have gotten more firefighters out of the World Trade Center before collapse, had we built a better public safety communications network by 2001. So as much as I think auctions are a tremendously efficient way to allocate wireless broadcast resources in general, this is a specific case where I think we need to bypass that and simply allocate the D block to a new national safety grid.
I’m told some Republicans would like to put the D block up for auction, trusting in the free market to decide whether the D block is better used in other ways. However the FCC already tried to auction that portion of the spectrum in 2008. We set a reserve price ($1.3 billion), but nobody was willing to pay it, so that auction failed like an eBay auction for a worthless heirloom.
If we believe that public safety groups nationwide do not need the full D block to themselves, but can get by with only part of it, we can always find a free market compromise. We can give the D block to public safety groups, but on a regional basis allow them to resell at auction those portions of the spectrum they’re not using, driving the proceeds possibly to fund deployment of our new national, interoperable system. These auctions would also allow private safety groups, such as private hospitals, to buy into the system.
So much of our collective examination of the 9/11 attacks, and their response, has focused on political hot button issues like our military response or Trutherism. Our need for interoperable communications just couldn’t compete for airtime with issues like those. So this issue has not split on partisan lines, nor does it need to, and I’m fine with that.