WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled Safeguarding Our Future: Building a Nationwide Network for First Responders.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—This fall marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Despite the passage of time, the horror and the deep sadness that marks that day has not faded from our national consciousness. And that’s appropriate, because these are wounds that even if they heal will always cause us pain.
More importantly, tragedy knows no boundaries. Besides New York or Washington, emergencies occur every day in urban and rural communities across the country. Whether it’s terrorism or a tornado, a hurricane or a brush fire, one thing rings universally true. When an emergency happens, we rely on first responders like police, firefighters, and public safety officials to keep us from harm.
Far too often we talk about the important role these brave first responders play but fail to give them the tools they need to do their job. I think it is long past time to do something about that. That is what today’s hearing is about. And it is what led me to introduce and champion the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.
This legislation does two things. First, it sets aside 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.
In short, this bill marries resources for first responders with good commercial spectrum policy. It can keep us safe—and help grow our economy. That is why this legislative union has the support of every major public safety organization across the country. I am proud that virtually every public safety officer in my great state of West Virginia has stood up and recognized how essential this bill is to their ability to do their jobs. In fact, I am especially proud of the good work we’ve done on this legislation across the state and I’ve had useful conversations with first responders in Jackson County and Wood County about how this bill will make their work safer. Across the country, we’ve also gotten strong statements of support from governors and mayors. And now we have the full and unambiguous support of the Administration.
There are some people who argue that we should simply sell this valuable resource to the highest bidder. I forcefully reject that – though I have said repeatedly that 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 protect our people.
But let me also clarify one thing. This effort is about saving lives. And to those who say we cannot afford this now, I say we cannot afford not to. But if this is not compelling enough, it is important you know this: This legislation pays for itself.
According to the Administration and industry, incentive auctions will bring in revenue well above what funding public safety requires, leaving billions over for deficit reduction. This is win-win-win.
In closing, let me say that we have a once in a generation opportunity to provide our public safety officials with the spectrum they need to communicate when tragedy strikes. And with incentive auctions we can pair this with funding. To my colleagues, I say let’s seize this moment. This is not right, this is not left. It is simply the right thing to do. Let’s do something historic—together. This is my highest legislative priority for the Committee. We will work to get this done—before our nation reaches the tenth anniversary of September 11th.
Thank you to our witnesses for joining us today.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
“SAFEGUARDING OUR FUTURE: BUILDING A NATIONWIDE NETWORK FOR FIRST RESPONDERS”
February 16, 2011; 10:00 a.m. SR 253
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing.
Over the last decade, devastating events like the tragedy of 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike have dramatically illustrated how vital it is for first responders to have the best equipment available in order to protect the public in times of emergency. Interoperable communications is one of these tools.
We have all heard too many stories about how our police, fire, and medical personnel have been unable to communicate during these emergencies, sometimes even resorting to handwritten notes passed across piles of rubble. Communication breakdowns like these are not acceptable in this day and age.
Today, children are walking to school with cutting-edge smartphones capable of video conferencing and high-speed Internet connections, while our first responders often rely on voice-only walkie-talkies that use decades-old technology. And often times those radios aren’t even interoperable with the ones used by first responders in other departments or in nearby towns and counties.
The time has come to ensure that our emergency personnel have access to interoperable twenty-first century wireless technologies.
Mr. Chairman, you have been a leader on this important issue, and I want to commend you for your tireless efforts.
And as I said in September, I can support your proposal to allocate the spectrum known as the “D Block” to public safety.
However, I still have some concerns with how your legislation would fund the deployment of the public safety network, and whether we can work together to combine the public safety allocation with some of my priorities in the wireless area to drive innovation, investment, and job growth.
Mr. Chairman, I have drafted a comprehensive spectrum bill, the Wireless Innovation and Spectrum Enhancement Act, (the WISE Act), that I hope you will consider. My bill would both allocate the D Block to public safety as well as provide a stable funding stream through a combination of grants financed by auctions revenue and zero-interest loans to build a public safety network.
Funds would also be specifically targeted to rural and high-cost areas so that many of the smaller communities in states like Texas and West Virginia will also see the timely deployment of a public safety broadband network.
In addition to ensuring our first responders will have access to the communications systems they so desperately need , my bill will generate billions in new revenue to help pay down the Federal deficit.
It will also spur more efficient and transparent use of government spectrum, encouraging the government to use less of its spectrum allotment so that some airwaves that today are unused or underutilized can be repurposed for higher use.
Lastly, my proposal will drive investment, innovation, and job creation by significantly increasing the spectrum available for commercial broadband use. This is necessary to maintain the United States’ position at the forefront of the wireless world.
Mr. Chairman, I believe we have an opportunity today for bipartisan cooperation to help spur wireless innovation, to create jobs, to reduce the deficit, and most importantly, to build a much-needed national public safety broadband communications network.
I hope you will give serious thought to combining our approaches into a final product that can get broad support.
I look forward to working with you to pass legislation this year that ensures the public safety community gets the resources they need to execute their critical mission.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Pete T. King (R-N.Y.-3)Chairman, Committee on Homeland SecurityU.S. House of Representatives
Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Raymond W. KellyPolice CommissionerCity of New York
The Honorable Jack A. MarkellGovernor, State of Delawareon behalf of the National Governors Association
Mr. Al GillespieChief, North Las Vegas Fire DepartmentFirst Vice President, International Association of Fire Chiefs
Mr. Joe HannaPresidentDirections, Inc.