Communications and Technology Subcommittee Continues Oversight of FirstNet

November 21, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today continued its oversight of the development and build out of FirstNet and other emergency communications networks. FirstNet is a nationwide, interoperable broadband public safety network created by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Members heard from FirstNet and private sector entities that are working to implement this nationwide public safety network. The hearing also reviewed other emergency communications technologies to better understand how their development can improve the capabilities of first responders across the nation.

“While there is significant work to be done to ensure that the states are partners, not customers, of FirstNet, it appears that FirstNet has made progress in reaching out to state, tribal, and local jurisdictions along these lines,” explained Walden. “We cannot afford to have this effort fail to produce a network, or worse, have this network deployed and then have no one show up to use it.” He added, “Today, we are asking our witnesses ’what is working, what isn’t working, and how can we help?’”

Sam Ginn, Chairman of the FirstNet Board, provided members with an update of the board’s work in meeting the many challenges FirstNet has faced and will face in the year ahead. He explained that since his last appearance before the subcommittee in March, FirstNet has been working to set up its foundations, including establishing a budget, and began outreach to state, local, and tribal groups. He said, “It has been a challenging year given the task before us, but I feel that we have made significant progress in a positive direction and we will be using 2014 to build upon this initial success.” Additionally, he explained that FirstNet’s success will undoubtedly hinge on the “support and assistance” of the Congress.

David Turetsky, Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, described the commission’s work to support FirstNet’s mission, including reallocating two swaths of spectrum. “We will work with all stakeholders and our federal partners to ensure that these transitions occur as seamlessly and transparently as possible,” explained Turetsky. Turning to the advancement of public safety wireless communications, Turetsky described the work that the FCC has undertaken to support the deployment of Next Generation 911 (NG911). “The FCC is actively pursuing steps to facilitate the transition to NG911. One of the first and most important of these is to further the development of text-to-911. … In an emergency, people expect to be able to reach out for help using the same means of communications that they use every day.”

Stu Davis, the State Chief Information Officer and Assistant Director Ohio Department of Administrative Services, explained that the state is “supportive” of a the goals of FirstNet, but cautioned that there are many areas for improvement. In addition to cost, Davis also discussed how imperative it is for the FirstNet board to understand the unique technical capabilities and needs of each state, testifying, "For FirstNet to be successful they need to focus on developing relationships with the states and modify their approach to be one of engagement, not product marketing to states," said Davis.

“The state recognizes the importance of the effort that is underway via FirstNet, and feels strongly that remaining actively involved is the best way to achieve an outcome that is mutually beneficial and acceptable,” added Darryl Ackley, Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.

“FirstNet’s success hinges on the success of the FirstNet Board and their ability to bring the goal of a public safety broadband network to fruition piece by piece. While I certainly share many of the concerns expressed as FirstNet has gotten up and running, FirstNet has made progress,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “I am committed to working with the FirstNet board and other stakeholders to make sure their work is successful. Our nation’s first responders, and the public they so honorably serve, will be better for it.”

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