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Eshoo, Waxman Push Inquiry Into Navy Yard Communications Problems

Looking to put a spotlight on the FirstNet emergency broadband communications network being funded by FCC auctions, some top House Democrats pushed them for a full inquiry into what they say were possible first responder communications failures during the Navy Yard shootings last week in Washington.

In letters (" to Lawrence Strickling, who heads the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, and FCC acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Communications subcommittee, said they wanted them to work with agencies at all levels of government to investigate possible first responder communications problems, with a focus on how a FirstNet interoperable network might prevent future similar breakdowns (assuming there were some).

There were reports following the shooting that some first responders had problems with their radios--"inadequate indoor coverage, radio interference caused by fire alarms, and the inability to communicate with non-Navy first responder radio systems"-- that forced them to use their own cell phones pr "runners" to communicate. "FirstNet's mission is to prevent exactly the types of communications failures that reportedly occurred at the Navy Yard last week," they said. "This horrific incident serves as a further reminder just how critical it is for FirstNet to succeed in its mission."

The legislators say that press reports indicated some of the problems were known before the shooting, but not addressed. They gave Clyburn and Strickling until Oct. 21 to provide an update on their inquiry.

A spokesman for Clyburn had no comment on the request, but a source confirmed the FCC had received a copy of the letter and would respond.

Rep Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland and Security Committee, told CNN Monday that he planned to hold a hearing on the reports of Navy Yard communications failures. He expressed his displeasure that over a decade after 9/11 there was still no interoperable emergency network.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.