House Democratic leaders had both praise and advice for FirstNet in advance of a hearing Tuesday (June 16) on the status of the broadband-based interoperable emergency communications network being funded through FCC spectrum auctions.
That is according to the hearing opening statements from Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), chair of the House Communications Subcommittee.
Pallone focused on the progress made. Back in March, a GAO study found that FirstNet had made progress, but still lacked effective internal controls.
Pallone said that following the report, FirstNet chair Sue Swenson had "quickly acted to implement these recommendations," adding: "Of course, as with any new venture, FirstNet has faced some hard times. But it has not shied away from these challenges."
The Department of Commerce's Inspector General also early on concluded that FirstNet was not sufficiently transparent about its operations, but Pallone said it was now described by "most observers" as a model of efficiency.
Pallone called the FirstNet board seasoned professionals and its "hard-charging" staff like those at a tech powerhouse, "crisscrossing the country making sure everyone with an opinion has their voice heard."
The overwhelmingly positive tone of the statement was in contrast to that of Communications Subcommittee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in scheduling the hearing. “FirstNet has had a rough start, including numerous management changes and questions surrounding board members' ethics,” said Walden. “While it seems that FirstNet has made progress toward getting back on track, we will continue our oversight as FirstNet works to ensure that first responders have a nationwide interoperable broadband network that meets their needs. American lives depend on its success.”
While Pallone was extolling its virtues, Eshoo had some specific advice for that board and hard charging staff. While she also conceded "significant progress" she asked FirstNet to focus on the following: 1) insure that wireless carriers big and small have a chance to partner with FirstNet; 2) Insure competition among devices that are truly interoperable and tough enough to take what emergency situations require; and 3) Make sure the network is next generation 911 capable, which means photos, videos and text.
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