Rockefeller sets May 25 vote on public safety network

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., plans to announce a May 25 vote on legislation that would pave the way for a nationwide emergency communications network using a controversial slice of airwaves known as the D-block, government and public safety sources said.

The network, to be used by first responders, would incorporate lessons learned from communications glitches that hampered the responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Rockefeller backs police, fire and rescue squads that want the D-block coupled with spectrum already under their control for the state-of-art broadband network. "Obviously, it's a milestone in the process," said Sean Kirkendall, spokesman for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, which held a meeting Monday in Washington to advocate for the legislation, and will meet with lawmakers this week about the need for action. "We've been working toward this," he added.

Rockefeller and three other Democratic co-sponsors plan to hold a news conference Tuesday to urge swift passage in the Senate. The West Virginian recently told reporters that he wants Congress to enact his legislation before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Achieving that goal, however, would require overcoming some sizable obstacles, particularly in the GOP-controlled House, where prominent Republicans have been resistant to Rockefeller's approach. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., have said they'd prefer to have the D-block auctioned to help fund the network.

Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agrees.