U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, will convene the panel for a hearing titled, “FirstNet Oversight: An Update on the Status of the Public Safety Broadband Network” on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.
At the urging of the public safety community, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an organization designed to serve as an “independent authority” in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and to “provide emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed network dedicated to public safety." As highlighted by the tragedy of 9/11, the reliance by first responders on separate networks has made communications among public safety professionals problematic during emergencies.
The subcommittee’s hearing will focus on the progress made since the Committee last held an oversight hearing in March 2015. In particular, the hearing will examine FirstNet’s progress in meeting benchmarks; the cost of deployment, particularly in rural areas; and the public safety broadband network’s plans to become a self-funding entity.
Mr. Michael Poth, Chief Executive Officer, FirstNet
Mr. Jeffrey McLeod, Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety Division, National Governors Association
Major General Arthur J. Logan, Single Point of Contact (SPOC), State of Hawaii, and Hawaii Adjutant General
Mr. Andrew Katsaros, Assistant Inspector General for Audit, U.S. Department of Commerce
* Witness list subject to change
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
9:30 a.m. ET
Communications Subcommittee Hearing
Senate Russell Building 253
Witness testimony, opening statements, and a livestream will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Senator Roger Wicker
"I am glad to convene today’s hearing with my good friend and colleague Ranking Member Schatz. We would like to focus on the progress FirstNet has made and the challenges that lie ahead in deploying a nationwide public safety network.
"The First Responder Network Authority – also known as FirstNet – was established under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It is intended to address communication failures that slowed recovery efforts during major national emergencies, including the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
"In Mississippi, we saw firsthand the consequences of communication network breakdown. FEMA, Red Cross, and others were hindered from providing the emergency recovery services needed during and after Katrina.
"Tasked with building and operating the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, the 2012 Act allocated $7 billion from spectrum auction proceeds to launch FirstNet. The AWS-3 spectrum auction, which concluded in January 2015, raised the $7 billion needed to begin the planning and development stage.
"Although FirstNet has made commendable progress in the past year, questions linger about the future viability of the network. I appreciate FirstNet’s commitment to providing our rural communities with the same services as larger, urban cities, but rural and remote coverage remains a major concern of mine.
"The cost of coverage and maintenance of the network in these hard-to-reach areas needs to be addressed on the front end of deployment. An accurate inventory of towers and equipment is critical to ensuring that infrastructure is capable of withstanding 200 mph winds during storms similar to Katrina.
"Each region of the country faces a unique set of challenges, and addressing these challenges is critical to fulfilling Congress’s goal in creating FirstNet. We should ensure that FirstNet’s plan for deployment includes the all the technical requirements that may be necessary.
"However, we recognize that nationwide deployment will not occur overnight. Over the next several months, FirstNet will be reviewing bids to award a contract for all aspects of deployment. As this process moves forward, I urge FirstNet and all stakeholders to look carefully at the long-term viability of the network.
"With a limited user base, FirstNet must have the sophistication to determine who has not only the technical capacity, but also the ability to monetize the network in order to keep it running in the future. The costs placed on public safety entities to use the network are also a major concern with regard to long-term sustainability.
"Last year’s oversight hearing examined the progress that had been made and FirstNet’s plan for outreach to stakeholders in each state and territory. Today, I look forward to hearing about FirstNet’s accomplishments in the past year, what benchmarks have been met, and what work still needs to be done.
"I would like to welcome all of our witnesses and thank them for testifying this morning. Our panel today includes a number of stakeholders overseeing the deployment process who can help shed light on the challenges ahead.
"I look forward to the testimony from our distinguished panel. I will now turn it over to my colleague, Mr. Schatz."
FirstNet is at a critical juncture. The nationwide network is closer to reality than ever before, and yet much remains to be decided. Just a few weeks ago, FirstNet received responsive bids to its requests for proposal (RFP) for deployment of the network. The carefully crafted RFP, which was the result of extensive preparation and consultation, set forth detailed objectives for the first responder network that any private sector partner has to meet. I know we are all anxious for FirstNet to complete its review of those bids – something it plans to accomplish before the end of this year.
We are not allowed to know the number of bids FirstNet received, nor the specifics of those bids. Indeed, Mr. Poth cannot give us any insight into those bids while we are in this sensitive review period. We all want to know how the private sector responded to the RFP. What do the bids say about how rural areas will be covered? How will FirstNet become self-sustaining? What insights can the bidders provide about how the network will be deployed in states and territories? These are all questions for another day. In fact, one wonders about the timing of today’s hearing given the legal and practical constraints on all parties, including FirstNet, who can offer the most insight about network planning and other questions.
Broadly speaking, the legislation creating FirstNet built in a great deal of flexibility in how the network was to be deployed, leaving actual implementation to the private sector partner. The RFP rightly set forth broad objectives to meet the statutory directives, but leaves the details to the private part of what will be the first-of-its-kind, public-private partnership. Selecting a private sector partner likely will not be easy. Will FirstNet’s eventual decision make everyone happy? Of course not – that’s a given. But is it critical that we get this done? You bet.
When we came together in a bipartisan way more than four years ago to take the important step of creating FirstNet, it was because we knew we needed to give our nation’s first responders – who put their lives on the line each and every day – the tools they need to communicate effectively during emergencies. Governors, mayors, and public safety officials from across the country all joined us to put aside individual parochial concerns and recognize that we all had to work as partners to create a new paradigm if we were to make a truly interoperable network for first responders a reality.
As it’s taken several years to get to the RFP stage, that collective will in support of FirstNet may have faded into skepticism in some corners. I fear that some may try to exploit such feelings at the expense of our nation’s first responders. Now is not the time to jump to conclusions or make rash decisions with regard to FirstNet. The process Congress created is working and we will soon know the parameters of the private sector’s response to the RFP.
As I have said before, we knew the mission we gave FirstNet would not be easy – but the stakes of inaction were too high. That’s why we cannot lose sight of what brought Congress to create FirstNet three years ago – our nation’s first responders deserve an advanced nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network to help them do their jobs to protect us all.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Michael PothChief Executive OfficerFirstNet
Mr. Jeffrey McLeodDirector of Homeland Security and Public Safety DivisionNational Governors Association
Major General Arthur J. LoganSingle Point of Contact (SPOC), State of Hawaii,and Hawaii Adjutant General
Mr. Andrew KatsarosAssistant Inspector General for AuditU.S. Department of Commerce