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Storm Outages Could Get Vetting at FCC Oversight Hearing

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

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.