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Big Telecom Looms in Public Safety Battle

“If the D Block is commercially auctioned, public safety will be required to pre-empt commercial networks during emergencies to acquire needed capacity,” an AT&T spokeswoman said in a statement. “That’s unfair to our public safety community, who deserves sufficient dedicated resources, and it’s unfair to wireless consumers, who deserve reliable wireless communications in times of crisis.”

The public face for the lobbying push in favor of reallocating the spectrum is the Public Safety Alliance, a coalition made of groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Opponents of the spectrum reallocation allege that the Public Safety Alliance is heavily underwritten by AT&T and Verizon. The companies are sponsors of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials — which runs the coalition — along with other companies such as Motorola, which makes the security handsets used by safety officials.

Yucel Ors, an alliance spokesman who also works for APCO, said the suggestion that AT&T and Verizon were heavily funding the lobbying effort was inaccurate. Just because they sponsor APCO, “it does not imply you have any influence on our policies,” he said.

He noted that T-Mobile had also been a corporate sponsor. Neither Verizon nor AT&T officials responded to accusations that they were bankrolling public safety groups’ lobbying efforts.

T-Mobile and Sprint have formed their own coalition, Connect Public Safety Now, which includes a number of wireless companies that are lobbying for a spectrum  auction.

The telecom companies all have sizable lobbying teams in Washington, D.C. T-Mobile, for example, has tapped the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to help get its message out.

But AT&T and Verizon dwarf T-Mobile and Sprint in annual spending, shelling out more than $32.5 million combined on lobbying last year compared with $5.5 million for the smaller companies.

Both sides are hoping to appeal to the large freshman class and Republican leadership in the House.

Bennet said she pointed out to fiscally conscious Members that the auction approach could reap billions of dollars of revenue for the federal government.

That approach has the backing of Rep. Cliff Stearns, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“I support the re-auction of the spectrum to a commercial carrier and using the proceeds to build out a network for emergency first responders or to be shared with a commercial carrier,” the Florida Republican said in a statement.

But auction opponents also have fans in the GOP leadership, most notably Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who issued a statement saying the reallocation plan “will not only save lives, but will provide the stability and security that our economy needs to move forward.”

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