Election ’08: The Candidates and Our Industry
March 13, 2008
By Lindsay A. Gross
Throughout this election season, slogans such as “Solutions for America,” “Change We Can Believe In” and “Ready to Lead on Day One,” are resonating in the rafters of venues across America at campaign rallies. During the primaries, candidates have discussed a variety of issues from health care to Iraq, to education to Social Security. But what about our industry? Where do the candidates stand on issues regarding the future of mission-critical communications?
Information technology (IT) hasn’t been a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, but IT policy will be an important issue facing the next president, according to a panel of Republican and Democratic advisors speaking at the State of the Net conference hosted by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus in January. The advisors agreed that while technology issues are unlikely to sway voters in the campaign, technology will ultimately play an important role in solving issues in which voters are interested. So MissionCritical Communications explored the Republican nominee’s and the two remaining Democratic candidates’ positions and history — and even conducted polls — as it pertains to you.
At the 2008 International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in February in Las Vegas, MissionCritical Communications staff polled attendees at our booth asking which candidate would best serve the mobile-communications industry. In a separate reader survey of public-safety communications professionals, we asked what presidential candidate would best support the communications needs of the public-safety community. We did not calculate a statistical accuracy for the polls, but Sen. John McCain was the overwhelming favorite; the detailed results are shown in the pie charts.
Following is an overview of each candidate’s position and history on mission-critical communications issues.
Ariz. Sen. John McCain
In 2007, Sen. John McCain, who is now the Republican nominee, introduced legislation that would establish a nationwide, state-of-the-art public-safety broadband network to promote interoperable communications among first responders. “The federal government has made strides in developing a comprehensive, interoperable emergency communications plan, establishing equipment standards, funding the purchase of emergency and interoperable communications equipment and belatedly making additional radio spectrum available. But none of this is enough. We must do more,” McCain said. McCain supported a network created by licensing an additional 30 megahertz of radio spectrum in the upper 700 MHz band to a Public Safety Broadband Trust to provide first responders seamless nationwide roaming capability and allow for real-time data transmission. The FCC embraced parts of this concept in its 2007 700 MHz report and order and the 2008 700 MHz spectrum auction.
“It is now time to think big and bold and solve the interoperability crisis once and for all. We are at a watershed moment where we can provide more of the 700 MHz spectrum to solve our national public-safety communications crisis and greatly enhance our emergency preparedness. If we do not act now, this valuable spectrum will be auctioned off, and this opportunity will be lost forever,” McCain said. “I fought for many years to clear the 700 MHz spectrum for first responders, and now that there is a firm date for the availability of this spectrum, we should ensure that enough spectrum is being provided to first responders. That is why I support the allocation to public safety and the creation of a Public Safety Broadband Trust and will introduce legislation in the near future to provide this spectrum to these valiant police officers, firefighters, sheriffs and other first responders.”
In 2002, McCain pushed to make the DTV transition a reality, providing public safety with a date to receive its 700 MHz spectrum. “Congress devoted valuable public assets to the DTV transition and ultimately has the responsibility for finding responsible solutions,” McCain said on the senate floor in regard to the administration’s 2003 budget proposal to delay auction dates for spectrum being used by broadcasters. “The proposal before the FCC that enables broadcasters to further capitalize on the spectrum give-away by allowing the broadcasters to negotiate to vacate the spectrum by 2006 for a price is not, I note, a responsible solution.” The hard date for the DTV transition was eventually set for Feb. 17, 2009.
In 2006, McCain presided over a hearing on net neutrality and interconnection before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. McCain said in the hearing that proposals to change how the Internet works may deeply impact how we use the Internet. “Over time, we have understood that network operators do need to prioritize certain data that flows through their networks,” he said. “For example, the failure of a 9-1-1 emergency call through a VoIP application could result in great injury or death. We know that networks must be able to ensure such critical communications, as well as protect against threats such as spam and spy ware. Practical need and technological advances have thus led to innovations inside the network, which many believe are just as important as the advances in services and devices connected to the Internet on the edges.” He concluded that he firmly believes that network operators shouldn’t stifle the free flow of information that has been the “essential component of the Internet.
N.Y. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Our first responders — firefighters, police officers and emergency-services workers — aren’t only on the front lines of our nation’s homeland defense but also have the burden of keeping our families and communities safe from crime, fire and other public-safety hazards, according to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the two candidates left in the race for the Democratic nomination. “That is why I have fought hard to do all I can to ensure that our first responders have the resources necessary to do their jobs and to keep us safe,” Clinton said in a statement on her Web site.
In September 2007, Clinton welcomed $9.6 million in funding by the Department of Justice (DoJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) for the state of New York. Clinton has long been a supporter of COPS, which is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide and supporting state, local and tribal enforcement agencies created under her husband’s administration. Of the $159 million awarded by the 2007 COPS technology program, the Albany (N.Y.) Police Department was allocated $3.6 million and the New York state division of criminal justice $6 million.
The 2007 COPS Technology Program funding supported projects aimed at facilitating sharing voice or data information across multiple jurisdictions within a region or state, with the ultimate objective of increasing public safety. “The COPS program is an essential source of funding to our local law-enforcement agencies throughout New York state and is a proven, effective tool for fighting crime and keeping our streets safe,” Clinton said. “It is critical that we continue to support COPS so that our courageous first responders have access to state-of-the-art crime-fighting technology, training and funding. They deserve no less in their effort to save lives and protect our communities.”
In 2003, Clinton joined four co-chairs in creating the Congressional E911 Caucus with the goal to provide a consensus-building forum to elevate the issues surrounding 9-1-1 services and implement an agenda that strengthens the country’s ability to better respond and communicate in times of local and national emergencies, according to the E-9-1-1 Institute. In 2004, the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing (ENHANCE) 9-1-1 legislation sponsored and authored by Sens. Clinton and Conrad Burns passed and was signed by President George W. Bush. The E9-1-1 bill provides for increased federal coordination among federal, state and local emergency-communications systems, emergency personnel and public-safety organizations through the creation of a new task force. It authorized $250 million each year for the next five years for a total of $1.25 billion in matching grants to state and local governments and tribal organizations for the purposes of enhancing emergency-communications services through planning, infrastructure improvements, equipment purchases and personnel training and acquisition. In addition, the legislation discourages states from diverting 9-1-1 surcharge revenues for non-9-1-1 purposes. Although the funding was authorized, Congress hasn’t appropriated it yet, so public-safety answering points (PSAPs) haven’t received the money.
“Especially in this post-Sept. 11 world, our emergency-response systems have to be modernized. Our communications technology changes almost overnight, but our state and local response centers are still operating in the 20th century. Hundreds of PSAPs in New York and across the country still lack the resources, equipment and technology to respond to 9-1-1 calls made from a cell phone,” Clinton said.
Ill. Sen. Barack Obama
At the State of the Net Conference, Julius Genachowski, an advisor to Sen. Barack Obama said, “If we don’t get technology policy right in the next administration, we won’t make the progress we need.” Obama has issued a technology innovation plan embracing IT as an enabler for efficient government and for solving major challenges facing the nation, Genachowski said at the conference. Obama has also called for establishing the position of national chief technology officer (CTO). According to Obama’s Web site, the CTO would ensure that the government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.
“The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies,” the Web site states. The CTO will also ensure technological interoperability of key government functions. For example, the CTO will oversee the development of a national, interoperable wireless network for local, state and federal first responders as the 9/11 Commission recommended. “This will ensure that fire officials, police officers and EMTs from different jurisdictions have the ability to communicate with each other during a crisis, and we do not have a repeat of the failure to deliver critical public services that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” the Web site states.
Part of Obama’s technology innovation plan calls for unleashing wireless spectrum. “Obama will confront the entrenched Washington interests that have kept our public airwaves from being maximized for the public’s interest… He will ensure that we have enough spectrum for police, ambulances and other public-safety purposes,” the Web site states. Obama’s plan also calls to modernize public-safety networks. “[He] is committed to improving the information and communications technology used to support public safety from the antiquated 1970s and 1980s-based technology currently used by agencies around the country to a modern system that will enable us to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.” Two tenants of his plan are to:
* Catalyze national leadership to spur the development and deployment of new technologies to promote interoperability, broadband access and more effective communications among first responders and emergency-response systems.
* Use the authority over spectrum to establish an effective public-private partnership that would facilitate the development of a next-generation network for use by public-safety agencies on a priority basis.
In Obama’s presidential announcement speech in February 2007, he said, “Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age… and let’s invest in scientific research, and let’s lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.” A month later he voted to authorize funding for the Emergency Communications and Interoperability Grants program and to require the Secretary to examine the possibility of allowing commercial entities to develop U.S. networks for public-safety communications and for other purposes.
Obama has been a strong supporter of efforts to increase funding and support for local law enforcement, according to literature on his Web site. He supported the reauthorization of the COPS program in the 109th Congress and supports efforts to increase COPS funding. Since 1994, the COPS program has funded more than 5,800 additional police officers and sheriffs’ deputies in Illinois and more than $45 million in crime-fighting technology assistance.
Overall, all three candidates have embraced mobile-communications issues in one way or another. It’s always hard to predict how a president’s campaign promises and history translate into policy once in office, but mission-critical communications challenges are at least on the radar of all the candidates campaigning to lead our country for the next four years.
Lindsay A. Gross is managing editor of MissionCritical Communications. E-mail comments to lgross@RRMediaGroup.com.