House Checks on Emergency Communications


The House Telecommunications Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing Thursday, Sept. 29, on emergency communications, which has become Topic A in D.C. media policy circles post-Katrina.

In fact, the hearing is one of three emergency communications hearings slated for Thursday. There is a Senate Commerce hearing and one in a Homeland Security subcommittee.

Witnesses expected for the House Telecom subcommittee hearing include FCC Chairman Kevin Martin; Timothy Roemer, former 9/11 Commission member and a vocal critic of broadcasters; Thomas Miller of the Michigan State Police; Dr. David Boyd, Department of Homeland Security (he may be testifying in one of the other hearings as well); Art Botterell, National Academy of Science; Tony Trujillo, chairman of the Satellite Industry Association; and Harold Kramer of the American Radio Relay League.

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing last week on the same subject at which FCC Chairman Kevin Martin already outlined some of the lessons learned, and proposed some solutions. He suggested a comprehensive interoperable state/local emergency alert system that would include the Internet. He also proposed greater redundancy at key communications hubs (to make sure that equipment is above sea level, for example).

Martin also told the Senate he was creating a bureau to coordinate emergency response and was freeing up over $200 million to help rebuild communications infrastructure from the Universal Service Fund, which communications providers pay into to help fund telecommunication service to economically or geographically disadvantaged (or "remote") areas.

As did the Senate hearing last week, the House hearing will almost certainly touch on the issue of spectrum for first responders, particularly if Roemer is on the witness list. Some of broadcasters' analog spectrum will be used by emergency communications workers when it is returned after the switch to digital, by all accounts sometime in 2009.But with the annual hurricane cycle and terrorist threats a constant concern, some in and outside Congress are looking to get that spectrum back sooner.