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Creating FirstNet: A Conversation with Oregon Congressman Greg Walden


Washington, DC – Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) joined First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)’s Public Safety First podcast to discuss the importance of first responder communication, public safety challenges, and the progress of FirstNet since it was first created in 2012.

Walden, who grew up in the radio broadcast business, spent two decades as a radio station owner. He has long been a leading voice in Congress for communications and public safety policy, in particular advocating for those in rural areas. He authored the legislation in Congress that created the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network and FirstNet.

You can listen to the full conversation here and catch a few highlights below.


Creating FirstNet: A Conversation with Oregon Congressman Greg Walden

June 12, 2020

Ed Parkinson:  Could you maybe talk a little bit about why you pushed for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network for first responders?

Congressman Greg Walden:  First of all, it was one of the things that had not been done that was recommended by the 9/11 Commission. So, there weren’t many loose ends from the 9/11 Commission report, but this was one of them, and it called for a interoperable broadband public safety network, because we all know how tragic the stories were of first responders who came from outside of Manhattan to help, and they couldn’t communicate, they were on different channels during the response, and I’m sure lives were lost as a result. And so, we launched the campaign to get public safety its own dedicated network. Now, part of my background is in the radio broadcast business. I grew up in it. My father was a small market radio broadcaster, so I grew up around first responders as we’d go out and cover the accidents and the fires and the mishaps and the crime beat in small market radio, and my wife and I were in the business for two decades, as well. And so, I have great affection for what first responders do. I would like to think that I have some understanding of that, having participated on the sidelines but watched them in action, whether that was in search and rescue or fires or other tragedies. And it was clear – we needed to close this gap in communication, and, in the end, I was in a position to do it as I had just taken over as chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and this had been lingering for many years, and I said, “We’re going to make this a priority, and we’re going to get it done.”

Ed Parkinson:  What are your thoughts on 5G deployment, and how do you see it potentially creating synergies with public safety broadband?

Congressman Greg Walden:  First of all, we need to make sure there are telecommunications networks – commercial, FirstNet, all of them – are resilient, and are secure, and are not infected with foreign technology that could result in really bad things happening at crucial times. And so, we’re working to rip and replace equipment that’s in the traditional networks and get some of it out that we believe poses a threat to our own security – that would be the Huawei equipment. Second, we need to win this race on 5G, and that’s why we’ve worked so hard to get spectrum into the market, and to move forward with removing roadblocks to get 5G built out. I do think that part of the effort has to look at creating platforms that can evolve rapidly to, we’ll call it “6G,” but the next technology after 5G. You know, you’re always looking out. We have to get to the point where, like the O-RANs system and all, that those things are there, people have access, can compete, and that we can stay ahead of our competitor – our international competitors – who would love to dominate our telecommunication networks, our power networks, and, you know, I think that poses a threat that we shouldn’t allow in our country. So, 5G really matters, and it matters on the positive side of things.

Ed Parkinson:  Anything you’re going to miss now that you’re looking on to the next part of your career after the end of the year? Anything in particular around public safety? Broadband? I mean, you’ve got a dearth of experience – I’m sure there’s going to be a gaping hole when you move on, but what are some of the areas you’re going to miss about the Hill and public safety?

Congressman Greg Walden: Well, yeah, I’ve had a great run, and it’s the people, and it’s the ability to try and affect good public policy. I guarantee you I’m the only now former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, or chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology that ever wired in an emergency alert system or two in a radio station. I did that in our stations. You know, I’ve wired in studios and I’ve worked on transmitters, and if it got too high voltage or too tough, I had a real engineer on standby, but, you know, it’s been a great run, and I’m so proud of the partnership we developed to get FirstNet in place and up and running in a positive way. I have such admiration for first responders in every category. They put their lives on the line to save the lives of others, to safeguard our communities, to rescue people. I mean, it’s every piece of first responder, and I think we made a difference. And in this world, you hope, when you look back, you made a positive difference, and I think jointly we did. We freed up spectrum, we made money for the taxpayers, we created FirstNet, we funded it, we made the spectrum available, and I think that made a difference for those who make such a difference in our lives.

Ed Parkinson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I really think that FirstNet’s going to become a complete game changer. When you look at where we stand as an organization today, just over 1.3 million connections in a relatively short period of time, over 12,000 agencies from every state in the United States, it’s amazing to see the progress in a really short period of time. But, look, it’s 22 more years of the contract to go. I think in terms of legacy, this is going to be one of the best ones we have and we won’t let you down, Congressman. But hey, thank you so much for making the time today. I couldn’t thank you enough, and thanks again for everything you’ve done for public safety. It’s really an honor.

Click HERE to listen to the full conversation.


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