Pai Statement at FCC Field Hearing at Moffett Federal Airfield
Opening Statement of Commissioner Ajit Paiat the FCC Field Hearing at Moffett Federal Airfield
Santa Clara, California
February 28, 2013Good afternoon. I’d like to begin by thanking everyone at Moffett Federal Airfield for hosting
today’s event. We at the FCC can’t claim to be your most exciting guests—for instance, I know that the
cast and crew of “MythBusters” have used your hangars to test whether aircraft can be constructed of
concrete, as well as other important questions. But we appreciate your hospitality nonetheless.
Today’s hearing is a valuable complement to the Superstorm Sandy field hearings that we held
earlier this month. In New York and New Jersey, we learned a great deal about the damage to our
communications systems wrought by Sandy and what steps can be taken to harden our networks against
hurricanes and flooding. But our nation is vast and geographically diverse. Mother Nature challenges
each region in different ways, whether it’s hurricanes in the East, earthquakes in the West, or tornadoes in
the Midwest. So it’s important, as we think about how to keep our communications networks running
during emergencies, to consider our country’s complexities before seizing any one-size-fits-all solutions.
Consider earthquakes. Whether it’s a minor tremor or the “Big One,” earthquakes offer distinct
challenges for network operators. So I want to know how providers in California have adapted to that.
Are wires more secure up on poles or buried in conduits? We heard at our previous hearings that copper
is more brittle than alternatives like coaxial cable or fiber. How does that play out when an earthquake
hits? Are newer deployment technologies—like mesh networking—an effective way to make our
networks more resilient? I look forward to hearing about the experience of our American operators, as
well as the views of our guest from Japan, Mr. Hirohito Noda. I understand that the use of flexible
underground conduits and sliding joints helped enable Japan’s wireline networks to perform relatively
well in the immediate aftermath of the devastating Fukushima earthquake in 2011. What lessons can we
learn from that experience? By contrast, power outages caused major problems for wireless networks
following that earthquake. How did Japanese carriers overcome this and other challenges? What should
we in the United States be doing to prepare our communications networks for a major earthquake?
Another thing we learned at the Sandy hearings was that effective disaster preparation and relief
efforts require open communications and coordination among all parties—first responders, utilities, and
network operators. That’s certainly been the case in California. In the 2007 wildfires near San Diego, the
flames spread so quickly that many people found themselves in harm’s way before they were able to
evacuate. One family was trapped in their ranch outside San Diego. But thankfully, only a few days
earlier, Verizon had deployed a mobile cell vehicle, called a “Cell on Wheels” or COW, in the area. This
allowed the family to use a cell phone to call local authorities. The local fire chief and police chief
arrived, broke down the gate to the ranch and—with flames just 30–40 feet behind the family’s car—the
two men were able to save this family. That rescue effort was nothing short of heroic. And the
exemplary coordination between local authorities and Verizon is a model for disaster relief and rescue
Yet another thing we learned at the Sandy hearings was the value of getting useful information
about emergencies to the public. In California, that’s happening in all sorts of ways. One example is
Google’s new Public Alerts feature, available through Google Maps. In addition to a catalogue of
national emergencies, the feature lets users search for nearby alerts in any way they want. So searches
run from the mundane (“storm watch”), to the serious (“earthquake relief”), to the fatalistic (“Zombie
Apocalypse”). We need to figure out new and useful ways to get people the information they need, when
they need it, and that’s precisely what innovators in this area are aiming to do. I look forward to hearing
from our witnesses today about recent developments on this front.
We also need to examine how emergency information is reaching (or not reaching) diverse
communities, and there is no better place to study that than California. According to 2011 data from the
Census Bureau, 43% of California residents speak a language other than English in their homes. An
estimated 112 different languages are spoken in the Bay Area alone. In California today, broadcasters are
transmitting programming in a wide variety of languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Portuguese,
Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Tagalog. What are these radio and television stations doing to provide
viewers and listeners with important public safety information?
Speaking of other languages, I am amazed at some of the pioneering ideas coming out of
California companies for bridging the language divide. During a visit last month to a public safety
answering point in Virginia, I heard how 911 call centers are using a Monterey-based phone service
called Language Line to provide interpretation services to its emergency personnel. At low cost,
Language Line lets public safety officials reach a translator almost instantly, no matter what language is
needed. That’s the kind of innovation we need if we’re going to confront the challenge of 21st century
In conclusion, it’s my hope that today’s hearing will continue a productive exchange of
information about how to make our communications networks more resilient, and how we can ensure that
emergency information is effectively communicated to the American people. Thank you for coming, and
I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.
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