Hurricane Katrina destroyed almost everything in its path, including much of the wired and wireless communication infrastructure along the afflicted area of the Gulf Coast. The result was the great difficulty various emergency agencies and first responders encountered when trying to communicate with each other to coordinate rescue operations. This traumatic experience is intensifying an already-acrimonious debate in Congress about how best to deal with the 700 MHz spectrum which will be made available with the transition to digital TV.
Congressional budgeters hope to reduce the federal deficit by selling the spectrum off (an auction would raise between $10 billion and $30 billion). In 1997 Congress passed legislation which allocated 24 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band for state and local public safety needs. Public safety organizations, afraid that the temptation to sell off the entire vacated spectrum would prove too strong for legislators to resist, created a lobbying arm -- Spectrum Coalition for Public Safety -- to press the case for allocating a portion of that spectrum for public security.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), leading a group of legislators supporting the public safety organizations, presciently argued only a few weeks ago (before Katrina hit) that obtaining additional spectrum was "essential to providing police, fire and emergency personnel the tools to communicate with one another." The decision by the Senate and House Commerce Committees is expected by September 16.