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Senate Committee Passes Public Safety Spectrum Bill

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a deficit reducing measure Wednesday to reallocate the D-Block spectrum to public safety and gain federal funding to realize a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

The measure, known as the Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization (SPECTRUM) Act of 2011, is seen by proponents as a way to both reduce the federal deficit and honor first responders who lost their lives due to communications network failures during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a deficit reducing measure Wednesday to reallocate the D-Block spectrum to public safety and gain federal funding to realize a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

The measure, known as the Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization (SPECTRUM) Act of 2011, is seen by proponents as a way to both reduce the federal deficit and honor first responders who lost their lives due to communications network failures during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The D-Block is a 10 MHz section of broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency range and is highly sought after by mobile broadband carriers as the optimal frequency for their communications networks to operate on.

The bill would establish a framework that would give public safety professionals a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network on par with private sector network by reallocating D-Block spectrum to public safety. It would also direct the FCC to establish standards on how public safety officials would lease capacity to non-public safety entities with ability to reclaim the network when needed for public safety use.

“As I’ve made clear, passing this bill is my top priority this year. This bill marries smart spectrum policy with good public policy,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “We can bring first responders’ communications capability into the 21st century. We can give them the ability to share and disseminate information quickly, including fingerprints, floor plans of burning buildings and photos and videos, instantly.”

The bill would also keep the option of voluntary incentive auctions on the table by providing the FCC with incentive auction authority. Voluntary incentive auctions allow for private stakeholders to elect to auction all or part of their licensed spectrum in exchange for a portion of the auction proceeds.  The bill would direct the estimated $10 billion of surplus revenue from spectrum auctions to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.

Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), echoed Rockefeller’s call for improved spectrum policy and an improved public safety nationwide communications network in what both members called a bipartisan agreement.

“Our bill will spur job creation, generate hundreds of billions in economic activity, and drive research and development while bringing down the national deficit.”

Onlookers greeted the 21-4 vote of approval as a step in the right direction for the D-Block spectrum. In addition to deficit reduction and public safety communications innovation, a looming spectrum crunch concerns the private sector and government alike.

“This action couldn’t come soon enough. Cisco recently projected that the “traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2015,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra on the White House Blog.

Others are merely satisfied that action is being taken to move legislation forward on the issue. In a statement by the Public Safety Alliance released on the day before the meeting, PSA spokesman Chief Christopher Moore expressed urgency in his desire to see the bill move forward.

“It’s long overdue for this bill to move out of committee,” said Moore.. “The votes [at the hearing] will demonstrate who believes the safety of the American people is what’s most important in this debate.”

Josh Peterson is a DC-based journalist with a professional writing portfolio that includes work on US foreign policy and international affairs, telecom policy and cyber security, religion, arts, and music. He is currently a journalism intern at The National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. and a former tech and social media intern at The Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship. Peterson received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and religion with a minor concentration in music from Hillsdale College in 2008. When he is not writing, Peterson lives a double life as a web designer, social media strategist, photographer, musician and mixed martial artist.

Broadband's Impact

House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member

Derek Shumway

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Photo from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' website

March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.

Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.

She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.

Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”

Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.

Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.

This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”

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Congress

Former FCC Commissioners Reflect on Changes Since 1996 Telecommunications Act

Tim White

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Former Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O'Rielly on the webinar

February 9, 2021 – As 2021 marks the 25-yearanniversary of the Telecommunications Act, former Federal Communications Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Harold Furchtgott-Roth reminisced Monday on their time in Congress as staff members when the law was passed. The Hudson Institute hosted the conversation.

The Telecommunications Act was the first major update to telecommunications law since 1934, and the two former commissioners reflected onhow much the internet has shifted the focus of technology legislation.

O’Rielly said the “heart of the legislation” was looking at local and long-distance telephone company markets and opening them to more competition, but “no one knew at the time that the internet would go in a different direction,” he said.

“No one really figured out at the time what was going to happen as broadband and online technology would take over from circuit-switch technologies,” agreed Furchtgott-Roth.

“These markets that we thought were so important back in 1996, long-distance services, they don’t exist anymore,” he said. “Technology has changed and provided a different and a superior form of competition than the [Act] could have ever imagined,” he said.

Four of the biggest tech companies today—Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tesla—didn’t even exist 25 years ago, Furchtgott-Roth said, using them as examples of how much technology and the market has changed. “All of which have a very active role directly or indirectly in the communication space,” he said.

The two also expressed surprise at how prominent some of the law’s provisions have become, and how rarely the FCC uses other provisions.

O’Rielly said that even though the preamble to the law was written as a description and had no legal merit, that language “has been abused” by courts and by the FCC even though, in his view, the preamble is “something that has no statutory weight.”

Section 230 a new focus for concern

In recent months Section 230 of the Act, which grants immunity to online platforms for content provided by their users, has become a major conversation for Congress and in public discourse, due to controversial topics like the election, COVID-19, and the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, which led to Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter and Facebook, and the shutting down of Parler, a conservative-led competitor to Twitter.

“Everyone agrees that Section 230 is worthy of review or some type of reform, but they come from different perspectives,” O’Rielly said. Republicans and conservatives are worried about censorship on the online platforms, while Democrats on the other side are worried about the spread of misinformation without any correction or policing, he said. “Those two things make it really hard to find a middle ground, even if everyone agrees on the overall premise of some type of reform,” he said.

Furchtgott-Roth mentioned two parts of the Act that he thought would have been used more often. First, the forbearance clause from Section 10, which gives the FCC the option to not enforce parts of the Act if certain conditions are met by entities. Second, regulatory review from section 11, which allows the FCC to review its own rules.

On being questioned about reforming the Telecommunications Act, O’Rielly said that Congress needs to be forward thinking, not constantly fixing previous legislation, and that they need to be specific in their statutes for what they want and do not want federal agencies to do.

The anniversary also received praise from members of Congress and industry groups on Monday. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass and co-author of the Act, said Congress must revisit the law to bring up-to-speed demands for better broadband.

Meanwhile, FirstLight Fiber CEO Kurt Van Wagenen and Incompas CEO Chip Pickering suggested the new-look White House and Federal Communications Commission make broadband deployment a top agenda item to usher in connectivity in underserved areas.

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House of Representatives

Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by Bonnie Cash used with permission

January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.

Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.

Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is  the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.

Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.

Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.

Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress

Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.

He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”

Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.

The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.

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