Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A WARNing Should Benefit the People

On July 20, 2006, Radio World Newspaper Online, reported that Rep. John Shimkus (IL-19) a took time away from his busy non-legislative calendar to introduce H.R. 5785, the Shimkus-Wynn Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act (WARN). The article states that, the WARN Act would allocate $106 million (inquiring minds now want to know which part of the budget is missing $106 million) to expand the Emergency Alert System by incorporating new communication devices such as (i.e., wireless phones, BlackBerrys, the Internet, etc) and help coordinate a variety of government efforts to improve the systems.

The FCC is considering ways to improve the system; this month, President Bush issued an executive order calling for an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people.

[. . .] Shimkus said, During major events where we can give people warning and it's coming down the pike, we ought to use all the technology available, and we shouldn't hinder new technological development by dictating what that technology should be. He spoke during the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee hearing on the WARN Act.

[. . .] Several witnesses and members of Congress said expansion of the network should be mandatory, not voluntary. But Shimkus pointed out that some areas still do not have basic 911 coverage, and mandates could undercut free market incentives to improve the network.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a licensed ham radio operator and the only radio station owner in Congress, urged industry to consider amateur radio operators as a resource for the new digital EAS.
A closer analysis of the language reveals garden-variety John Shimkus. When he mentions free market (aka, Social Darwinism), he really means that he is promoting an agenda to make Texas-based companies richer and everyone else poorer. H.R. 5785 is an excellent example of this since the legislation will benefit companies like Austin, TX-based company, MessageOne, and no one else -- unless they can afford the price tag.

He should listen to his fellow Republican from Oregon. Lower-income people cannot afford an alert system and have emergencies just like higher-income people. A free market certainly provides no benefits to many Native American tribes living a meager existence. One of the biggest jokes on reservations is the internet. It typically requires payment for telephone service or cable communications (unless SBC and Charter Communications/ComCast has become uncharacteristically benevolent in recent months). According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the poorest people in the country are lucky to have the basic necessities:
[. . .] only 69 percent of American Indian households in the lower 48 states have service, the GAO report said, citing data from the 2000 Census.

The rate for Alaska Native households was somewhat better, at 87 percent. But this was still below the national average, the Congressional review noted.

Despite the disparities, telephone subscriber rates in Indian Country have improved in the past decade, the GAO said. A 1995 report from the Census Bureau found that only 47 percent of Native American homes had service.

Still, some reservations are far behind the rest of the United States. Only 34 percent homes on the Kickapoo Reservation in Texas, for example, have telephones.

The largest reservation in the U.S. -- the Navajo Nation -- also had similarly poor service. Only 38 percent of homes had telephones, according to the report.
Ironically, the reservation with the least telephone service is the Kickapoo Reservation. Only 34 percent of the homes have telephone service. It is ironic because a marketing gimmick reigns supreme over their Illinois lands, and the campus organization does nothing except encourage the foolish dancing caricature. The Removal and Relocation Period (1828 – 1871) forced many tribes into less hospitable terrains so bringing telephone service to reservations can be costly, putting tribes at a great disadvantage.

A better alternative is providing $106 million in grant funding for amateur radio (aka, ham) operators – like the ones associated with the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club, Inc. In a former life, most radio operators belonged to the U.S. Army Military Affiliated Radio System (MARS). Equipment is not cheap. It needs maintenance and replacement parts. The operators provide an invaluable service. They deserve a little support:
Mention the MARS Station to retired service members and they'll probably tell you about how they were able to talk with loved ones back in the United States while serving overseas through this system of phone patches, high-frequency radios and volunteer radio operators.

The U.S. Army Military Affiliated Radio System is still going strong with morale and welfare phone-patching and MARS messages. Today, it's also a critically important backup emergency-communications system.

MARS has evolved into emergency-communications support not just for the Army,but for other government agencies, as well, said Kathy Harrison, chief of the Army MARS, which is part of the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Army Signal Command at Fort Huachuca.

The Army MARS system operates 24-7, and participates in the National Communications Systems Shared Resources High Frequency Radio Program, a system designed to bring together federal, state and private-industry HF resources so emergency messages can be passed when normal communications channels are destroyed or unavailable.

Government agencies involved in the program include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Fort Huachuca MARS Station relayed messages that could not be passed in the affected area because the communications infrastructure was destroyed.

[. . .] Along with voice traffic, MARS can pass large files with bulk information, such as patient or supply lists, via computers.

MARS is made up of 2,500 member stations in the continental United States. Only 270 are military stations; the rest are civilian-volunteer stations. MARS relies almost exclusively on volunteer operators who donate time and buy their own equipment to make the system work.
Technology has come a long way since Serbian-American Nikola Tesla experimented with radio signals in his lab at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), West Point, New York, in 1895. If John Shimkus was not listed in the USMA’s alumni roles, no one would ever believe he was active-duty military at any point in his life. Remember, as a Weekend Warrior, he already does nothing -- and received his silver oak leaves for it. Introducing the WARN Act at the time of the most-damaging thunderstorms is predictably incongruous – on the same level as a foolish dancing caricature. (NOTE: The one thing people should not use during a thunderstorm is wireless equipment. Just ask someone who has survived a lightening strike. (Another Note: Never use ANY wireless equipment during a bomb threat. Radio signals have a nasty habit of making bombs go boom!))

This is a no-brainer. Amateur radio emergency communications: More bang for the taxpayers. Less buck for Texas-based technology companies.

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