Presidential Candidates Offer Few Details on Critical Communications Agendas
Thursday, September 15, 2016 | Comments
There has been a lot of talk during the 2016 presidential election, but there has been little talk specific to technology and communications for public safety and other mission-critical industries.

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have talked about the importance of public safety, but the candidates have offered few specifics on what their administrations would do for public safety and other mission-critical sectors.

“We don’t know who’s going to win, and we don’t know how 9-1-1 fits into their agendas,” said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

Information on Trump’s potential policies is fairly limited. The “Positions” page on his website covers just eight topics: childcare reforms, economic vision, a wall on the Mexican border, U.S.-China relations, Veterans Administration (VA) reforms, Second Amendment rights and immigration reform.

While Trump has not outlined a specific policy on technology, his positions such as restricting immigration, renegotiating trade deals, lowering taxes and reassessing regulations, could all impact technology and innovation within the United States.

Specifically on regulations, Trump’s plan calls for a temporary pause on new regulations and a review of old regulations to identify candidates for repeal. The proposed plan would require each federal agency to create a list of regulations that they impose on American businesses and rank them based on their importance to health and safety. Regulations ranked low would be considered for repeal.

Clinton’s website is more robust in presenting the candidate’s positions as it covers nearly 40 different topics. Her position paper on technology and innovation touches on a variety of topics, but only briefly mentions public safety and critical communications.

Clinton’s technology and innovation plan calls for increased investment in computer science, along with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to prepare workers for jobs in technology and industry; increased access to capital for start-ups and other small businesses; investment in science and technology research and development (R&D); investment in digital infrastructure, such as 5G technology and the internet of things (IoT); and promoting cybersecurity both in the U.S. and abroad, among other policies.

Specifically for public safety, Clinton’s plan calls for updating and streamlining the procedures for sharing data across borders for law-enforcement activities. Her plan calls for modernizing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process and to reach agreements with other countries to allow law enforcement to obtain data privately and securely.

Clinton’s plan also supports continued investment in programs such as the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which has supported several public-safety early-builder broadband projects.

Fontes noted that while he has not heard specifics on 9-1-1 from Clinton during this election, she co-founded and served as a co-chair of the E9-1-1 Caucus, now called the Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) Caucus, while serving as a senator. The caucus focuses on understanding what 9-1-1 agencies need to continue effectively serving their communities and maintaining the integrity of the 9-1-1 system, Fontes said.

No matter who wins the election, that person will have several important issues to address in terms of 9-1-1, he said.

One of the most pressing issues is the ongoing transition to NG 9-1-1, Fontes said. With the four nationwide carriers planning to fully transition to IP by 2020 and the rollout of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public-safety broadband network coming, it is imperative that public safety continues to deploy NG 9-1-1 to ensure seamless communications with the public and provide first responders with the information that can help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, he said.

Fontes also highlighted cybersecurity as another issue the incoming candidate will need to address because of the continued increase of threats, such as ransomware and targeted denial of service (TDoS) attacks, to public-safety operations.

Additionally, the next administration will need to tackle funding for 9-1-1. About 50 percent of U.S. households have gone wireless, meaning that 9-1-1 has seen at least a 50 percent decrease in revenue, Fontes said.

Developing a funding mechanism that allows public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to invest in capital expenditures for next-generation technology while covering operating expenses is critical to 9-1-1’s future, Fontes said.

On the spectrum side of the communications industry, policies pushing for the expansion of broadband are likely to lead the wireless agenda, regardless of who wins the election, said Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA).

Crosby said that it’s hard to know how the election and the next president will impact spectrum policies, but that the next administration will need to address the UHF T-band spectrum.

“Of course, the elephant in the room concerns the status of the T-band reallocation — a decision that has disaster written all over it,” Crosby said. “The next administration will have to come to grips with this not-so-well-thought-out congressional initiative.”

Crosby said he would also like to see the next administration improve funding for the FCC. “Staff cuts and retirements are making it very difficult for the FCC to respond to requirements in a timely manner for all of its constituencies,” he said.

Another impact to the industry that comes with nearly every major election is the loss of momentum from changing appointments in management positions for federal agencies such as the FCC.

“Identifying willing candidates takes time, outstanding proceedings need to be analyzed and new objectives must be identified,” Crosby said. “Since there are considerably more political appointees in agencies like the FCC now than there used to be, the lost momentum can potentially be great.”

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) declined to comment on the election.

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