Statement of Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-MA)
House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet
Hearing on HR 3403, the “911 Modernization and Public Safety Act of 2007”
September 19, 2007

Good Morning. Today’s hearing focuses upon emergency communications and more specifically, the provisions of HR 3403, legislation introduced by our colleague Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), and cosponsored by Mr. Shimkus (R-IL), Ms.Eshoo (D-CA), Mr. Pickering (R-MS), and other colleagues.

The proposed bill is designed to ensure that a consumer calling 911 in an emergency from an Internet phone, using so-called “voice over Internet protocol” or VoIP service, can do so with a degree of confidence matching that of traditional phone service and wireless service. The bill seeks to achieve this goal through two key provisions. The first provision extends liability protections to VoIP service providers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lacks authority to grant liability protection to VoIP service providers and therefore Congress must take action to achieve this policy objective. This is similar to action this Subcommittee took in 1999 when such liability protection was accorded to wireless providers.

The second key provision in the bill establishes the right of VoIP providers to access the parts of the 911 infrastructure they need in order to complete 911 calls for consumers. This is an important provision because while the FCC has acted to require VoIP providers to meet Enhanced 911 service obligations, the Commission did not order that such VoIP providers had a legal right to the components of the 911 infrastructure they would need to fulfill their E911 obligations under the Commission’s own rules.

As we consider this bill, our job in my view should be to assure the public that the simple act of picking up a phone – any phone – including a traditional phone, a wireless phone, or an Internet “VoIP” phone, and dialing 911 and successfully reaching the appropriate dispatch operator should not hinge on the type of technology a consumer uses. This straightforward public safety mission should be achieved in a timely and common-sense fashion and this is what we need to focus on.

If a 911 call fails in an emergency – a moment when a loved one may be in dire circumstances or many lives may hang in the balance – a consumer won’t stand for long-winded explanations on the fine points of interconnection rules, or the implications of liability protection, when they ask why the call didn’t go through.

Today’s hearing will permit members to hear testimony on the legislation and weigh any adjustments that may be necessary to fine tune the language in the bill. It is my intention that the Subcommittee obtain such testimony, as well as input from other stakeholders, and work in bipartisan, consensus fashion to see if we might be able to move the bill through the legislative process in the coming weeks.

I want to commend Mr. Gordon for his fine work on this bill, as well as commend the other cosponsors. I also look forward to working with Ranking Member Upton, Chairman Dingell, Full Committee Ranking Member Barton, and our other colleagues as we move forward.

And I thank the witnesses for their willingness to appear before us this morning and look forward to their testimony.


September 19, 2007

CONTACT: Jessica Schafer, 202.225.2836