Storm Outages Could Get Vetting at FCC Oversight Hearing

Author:
Publish date:

The recent mid-Atlantic storms that bulldozed their way from
Ohio to the D.C. suburbs in Virginia and Maryland could get some attention at the
FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee on Tuesday.

According to the Republican Majority memo, one of the key issues to look for at
the hearing is the effect of those storms on emergency and nonemergency
communications.

Broadcasters have argued that they were there to fill in gaps when cellphone
service went out, saying that was another reason wireless carriers should be
activating FM chips in handsets so they can be radios as well as phones and
Internet devices. But the Republican staffers cite problems across the board.

"Wireline, wireless, cable and broadcast systems all experienced
outages," they write. They cite broadcasters' call for FM chips, but also
add wireless carrier arguments that "inclusion of such chips should be left
to the marketplace, that more than 50 wireless devices with such chips are
already commercially available, and that the wireless industry is deploying an
emergency alert program" at the direction of Congress.

On the Democratic side, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, in prepared
testimony, made the issue one of her priorities as well. In fact, first on her
list was public safety, which she called a paramount value in the
Communications Act.

"Just last week in Washington we were reminded how vulnerable we are
without access to communications," she wrote. "Weather-related power
outages across the region brought life to a halt, as wireless towers and 911
centers failed too many of us. Now the FCC must begin an investigation. It must
search out the facts -- wherever they lead -- and apply the lessons we learn,
so that our networks are more resilient, more secure and more safe."

The FCC is already investigating the outages.

As top telecom adviser to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller
(D-W. Va.), Rosenworcel was instrumental in the legislation that created and
will fund -- using incentive auction proceeds -- a national, interoperable
public safety communications network to help first responders and others
communicate in just such emergencies.

Related