WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled Keeping Us Safe: The Need for a Nationwide Public Safety Network.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.— September is when we remember. We remember that nine years ago we witnessed the horror of September 11th. We remember that five years ago we watched the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We remember because even with the passage of time, these are wounds that do not heal and losses we will never forget.
At home in West Virginia, we also know tragedy all too well. Just this April the Nation joined us in mourning the 29 brave souls killed in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. The grim reality is that in every state represented in this Congress, there are emergencies and crises.
Whether they are committed by the hand of nature or the unnatural hand of terrorism, one thing rings universally true: we are eternally grateful for the bravery of our public safety officials and we honor those whose job it is to keep us from harm.
This is why I firmly believe that our public safety officials are owed the resources they need to do their job. And this is why nine years after September 11th, we should be ashamed that they lack a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband communications system.
This is what led me to introduce the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act as one of the key pieces of legislation as the new Chairman of this Committee. My legislation does two things.
First, it allocates the 10 megahertz of spectrum known as the “D-block” to public safety to support a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network that will help keep us safe. Second, it gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum. These auctions, in turn, will provide funding to support the construction and maintenance of public safety’s network. And they will free up additional spectrum for innovative commercial uses.
I believe that this approach is fair. I believe that this is the right course—and the right thing to do. I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort. I know that some people believe there are other approaches to solving these problems. I will work with anyone who seeks to make sure that our public safety officials have the resources they need to communicate, to do their jobs, and to keep us safe.
I am grateful to each and every one of our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to their testimony. Thank you.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
“KEEPING US SAFE: THE NEED FOR A NATIONWIDE PUBLIC SAFETY NETWORK”
September 23, 2010; 10:15 a.m. SR 253
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing. I want to welcome all of our witnesses, and extend a special welcome to Annise Parker, the Mayor of Houston.
It has been more than nine years since the tragic events of 9/11 and five years since Hurricane Rita caused such devastation to the Gulf Coast. More recently, Hurricane Ike and its huge storm surge reminded us that in emergency situations, first responders and other public safety professionals need the best equipment available to ensure the preservation of life. Robust and interoperable communications is one of these tools.
Stories about responders during these, and other, emergencies resorting to hand written notes passed across rubble piles because they are using devices incapable of communicating with other responders, or because the communications networks are overwhelmed with traffic, are simply not acceptable given our technical capabilities.
We are here today to talk about this issue in a broad sense, but we are also here to discuss the future of a particular block of wireless spectrum. In particular, whether this spectrum, known as “the D block,” should be auctioned as the law currently requires. Or, whether it should be directly allocated to the public safety community to be paired with other public safety spectrum holdings to create a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety.
There is no question that public safety should have all of the resources it needs, including use of vital spectrum. And, I am prepared to support a direct allocation of this particular spectrum to public safety rather than auctioning it for commercial use, Mr. Chairman. But, I believe several important questions must be answered before we can enact legislation to do that.
From a technical standpoint, I would like to know if this spectrum were auctioned off to a commercial user, rather than allocated to public safety directly, what the challenges are in allowing public safety assured priority access to use the commercial network in an emergency.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has indicated that it believes a priority access arrangement can meet public safety’s needs while allowing this spectrum to be used to further innovation in the commercial wireless market. The FCC is represented here today, and I would like the FCC witness to address how such a framework would operate, and for our public safety witnesses to identify for us what the concerns and possible short comings of that approach might be.
I think it would also be useful for members to know and understand the advances in capability that this additional spectrum allocation will provide to our first responders. My understanding is that there are some critical new applications a true broadband capability will provide, such as high resolution image transmission that will allow field personnel to communicate directly with offsite medical personnel to enhance field treatment of injuries.
So, Mr. Chairman, there are several technical questions that I hope our witnesses can address to assist us as we consider legislation. But, I think we also have to consider whether particular proposals provide adequate and predictable funding to assist localities and the public safety community with the deployment and operation of the infrastructure needed to fully utilize this asset.
I have some concerns about the focus on using proceeds from future spectrum auctions to fund the deployment of the public safety network. Congress and the relevant federal agencies have struggled to develop a plan for spectrum inventory and redeployment. As a result, it is uncertain when we will have additional spectrum available for auction, or how much revenue we can expect to generate through the auctions.
Tying the availability of funds for the construction and operation of a nationwide broadband public safety network therefore carries risks. One of those risks could be that with uneven and sporadic funding, the public safety network is built first in larger communities while more rural and expensive areas to construct the network wait for additional funding. I do not believe that would be an acceptable result.
It may be that that the reliance upon future auction proceeds proves to be the most practicable approach, but I believe some of the proposals I have seen close the door too quickly on alternative means of providing support to localities and public safety agencies.
For example, we have not considered ideas like revolving loans with low interest rates that would allow local governments to borrow money at low interest rates to be paid back over a number of years. That type of program has been used successfully in other contexts to generate substantial investment with more limited up front appropriations from Congress.
There are also numerous existing grant programs that support public safety communications programs, some of them authorized by this committee, and several billion dollars available through the Department of Commerce’s broadband programs. I would like to know whether there is an opportunity to modify eligibility and use criteria to allow public safety to draw upon these programs.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing. I believe it is time for Congress to meaningfully address the need for a nationwide public safety network for the broadband age.
Again, I am prepared to support a direct allocation of the remaining 700 MHz spectrum directly to public safety. But, I also believe that the committee has more work to do on this issue. I pledge to work with you, Mr. Chairman, to ensure we consider an appropriate piece of legislation and that the public safety community gets the resources it needs to execute its critical mission.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Stephen E. McClureDirectorJackson County Emergency Medical Services, Ripley, West Virginia
Mr. Robert Davisthe Chief of Police of San Jose, California
The Honorable Annise Parkerthe Mayor of Houston, Texas
Ret. Admiral James Barnett Jr.ChiefPublic Safety Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, District of Columbia
Mr. Jeffrey D. JohnsonChief Executive, Western Fire Chiefs Associationand Former President, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Salem, Oregon
Dr. Ken ZdunekVice President and Chief Technology OfficerRoberson & Associates, Chicago, Illinois