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Transportation and Communications Panel Tackles Key Priorities with U.S. DOT Secretary, FCC Chairman

By Kevin McCarty
January 28, 2013

Members of the Conference of Mayors Transportation and Communications Committee engaged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on key mayoral priorities during the Conference of Mayors 81st Winter Meeting in Washington (DC).

Transportation and Communications Committee Chair Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who presided at the January 18 panel session, praised the Administration officials for their leadership on behalf of cities.

FCC Chairman Issues “Gigabit City Challenge”

Genachowski shared his vision for tapping the job creation and economic potential of telecommunication technologies and services, calling upon mayors to take up his “Gigabit City Challenge,” which he unveiled at the committee session. Genachowski urged mayors, other local leaders and broadband providers to establish at least one gigabit community in each of the 50 states to “accelerate the creation of a critical mass of markets and innovation hubs with ultra-fast Internet speeds.”

In comments before the panel, he said, “The question is whether jobs are created here or elsewhere in the world.” He explained further that there are now “…places in the world developing gigabit communities.”

To help cities meet the “Gigabit City Challenge,” Genachowski said that he would be working with the Conference of Mayors on a best practices clearinghouse to provide online information on how cities are lowering the costs and increasing the speed of broadband deployment nationwide, including building out gigabit communities. He also announced that the FCC will hold workshops on gigabit communities to hear from local leaders on how to evaluate barriers, increase incentives, and lower the costs of speeding gigabit network deployment.

Genachowski fielded questions from mayors, with Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter discussing his efforts to close the digital divide in his city. Touting his partnership with Comcast on its “Internet Essentials” initiative, Nutter said, “Forty-one percent of Philadelphia’s citizens don’t have access to broadband.” He went on to call broadband deployment “…one of the great civil rights challenges of this time.” Nutter urged the FCC Chairman to address a pending challenge to his city’s zoning authority under the so called “OTARD” rules, with other mayors asking the agency to affirm local authority over local rights-of-way.

Secretary LaHood: “Mayors Are Good Partners”

LaHood praised the mayors for their leadership and called on them to engage the legislative process to find new revenues for added federal investment in transportation infrastructure.

“We love working with this organization and working with you,” he said. “We are trying to make your job easier by coming to your communities,” recounting his trip earlier that day to Detroit where he announced with Mayor David Bing an investment of $25 million in a new light rail system.

With his department now working to implement the new federal surface transportation law, called “MAP-21,” LaHood urged mayors “…to look at the TIFIA loan program and its $2 billion to leverage other dollars.” Looking ahead to the new legislation, he said, “The debate is over how we are going to pay for this and be number one again in infrastructure. We are not number one; we are being outcompeted.” In assessing the role of the Administration in finding new revenues and shaping the new legislation, he said, “I think you will see some leadership from the President on this.”

Pipeline Safety Task Force Formed

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, recently named by Nutter to lead a new Pipeline Safety Task Force, briefed committee members on key challenges before mayors in addressing pipeline safety in their cities.

After recounting the devastating impact of a pipeline explosion on his city, Pawlowski said, “We are no longer able to rely on the utilities for our safety nor can we rely on the existing national hodgepodge of state and federal regulations.”

“So with the help of the Conference of Mayors, we are creating a national Task Force on Pipeline Safety to engage mayors from across the country in a collaborative effort to define and develop pipeline safety protocol specific to our cities,” he said, inviting committee members and other mayors to join with him in serving on this new task force now being established.

Siemens Public Affairs Director Becky Johnson briefed mayors on what her company can do to support mayors in investing in new transportation projects and solutions. In discussing rail transit, she told the mayors that Siemens is the only fully integrated light rail vehicle manufacturer, building light rail cars for Houston, San Diego, and Minneapolis; streetcars for Atlanta; locomotives for Amtrak’s Northeast and Keystone Corridors; and signed contracts in 2012 with Charlotte and Portland for additional rail cars.

Johnson described how Siemens can help cities make the most of existing infrastructure to offset costs and modernize facilities and equipment, with little to no capital outlay. She talked about making upgrades to buildings and other facilities through energy saving performance contracting, and the use of available federal dollars to fund certain transportation systems, such as smart traffic signals. She emphasized how leveraging new technologies can help advance mayoral priorities.