Pallone’s SANDy Act Passes House of Representatives (Video)

Jan 24, 2017

Bill will help Ensure the Resiliency of Communications Networks during Emergencies

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act–the SANDy Act—passed the House of Representatives. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, originally introduced the legislation in the last Congress to help ensure the resiliency of the nation’s communications networks during emergencies.  Following today’s House passage, a Senate committee is expected to take up the legislation this week.

During and after Superstorm Sandy, there was a major breakdown of communications networks, including cellular and home telephones, television, and internet services.  This created a dangerous barrier to emergency response and recovery for residents and towns. The SANDy Act would make sure all communication providers—radio, TV, Internet, and phone—can fix outages faster, even across state lines. It will recognize the critical role that wireline and mobile telephone, internet, radio and television broadcast, cable, and satellite services play during emergencies by providing priority access to otherwise restricted areas during emergencies like other utilities, to help them repair and maintain their communications equipment during disasters. It would also begin a process to provide 911 services over Wi-Fi hotspots during emergencies. 

“I am proud that we took another step towards enacting legislation that will help first responders, businesses and private citizens communicate during disasters,” said Pallone. “In New Jersey, we learned firsthand during Hurricane Sandy the importance of communications during an emergency. Broadcasters and cable providers give us the critical information we need to stay out of harm’s way.  Making a call for help is difficult when the power is out, and when the cell towers are also down, it can be nearly impossible. We must do everything we can to be better prepared for the next time disaster strikes.”

Last year, Pallone, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and CTIA, together with wireless providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon announced an agreement that wireless providers will share information and advance wireless network resiliency before, during, and after disasters and emergencies.  The Framework is also supported by the Competitive Carriers Association and its members.

APCO International, the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications, has voiced its support for the legislation stating that “it contains a number of provisions that would be helpful to 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) facing future large-scale disasters, and would generally lead to improvements in emergency communications in such situations.”

Since he became the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pallone has redoubled his efforts to improved communications during emergencies.  Pallone held a Superstorm Sandy Field Forum with local officials, industry leaders and senior FirstNet representatives to take a critical look at lessons learned and progress made with public safety telecommunications since the hurricane. Pallone used those lessons to craft the bill and improve the resiliency of our communications systems.  

Congressman Pallone delivered the following remarks on the House Floor during the debate of the bill. The video can be found here:

I want to thank the gentleman for yielding to me, and I’d like to start today by congratulating him on taking the reins of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Communications and Technology subcommittee is a critical part of the Energy and Commerce Committee and serves an important role for Congress as a whole.

Congresswoman Eshoo left big shoes to fill, but I am confident that with Ranking Member Doyle, and his longtime expertise in this area, the subcommittee is in capable hands.

With that, I rise today in support of my bill H.R. 588, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters, or SANDy Act.

Superstorm Sandy had a dramatic effect on my district back in New Jersey, and we saw firsthand how critical communications networks can be during emergencies.

Broadcast and cable networks provide crucial information that helps us stay out of harm's way. Phone and internet access makes sure we can call for help and keep track of our loved ones.

Unfortunately, when Sandy ripped through the Northeast, many of these networks went down when we needed them most.

Across the region, nearly one in four cell towers were knocked out.

But in some of the hardest hit areas of New Jersey, as many as half of the towers went down.

Many of them stayed down for weeks.  And that is why I have spent the past several years figuring out what went right and what went wrong.

Initially, I worked with the nation’s largest wireless carriers and the Federal Communications Commission to pull together a voluntary resiliency framework.

Most important, that framework makes sure that if one cell network goes down, like AT&T did during Sandy in my district, its customers can access another network, like Verizon that was still operational.

Everyone should be able to call for help as long as any signal is available.

The other major problem was the inability of communication services to repair their equipment.

The SANDy Act will recognize the critical role that wireline and mobile telephone, internet, radio and television broadcast, cable, and satellite services play during emergencies.

For example the RAT radio station at the Jersey Shores switched from music to 24 hour news coverage, helping people to access vital services in the day after the storm.

These providers need priority access to otherwise restricted areas during emergencies like other utilities, to help them repair and maintain their communications equipment during disasters.

The terrible tornadoes that struck the South over the weekend only underscore this point.

This is truly a common sense, bipartisan bill and it passed the House last Congress on a vote of 389 to 2.

I urge all Members to support H.R. 588.  I understand the bill has been scheduled for a markup in the Senate tomorrow, so hopefully once they do their work, we can get this bill signed into law.

With that, I yield back.

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