Feb 27, 2020 - Technology

Amid lawmaker pressure, FCC plans California outing to probe fires

Firefighters watch as the Kincade fire burns in Healdsburg, California in October 2019.

Firefighters watch as the Kincade Fire burns in Healdsburg, California, in October 2019. Photo: Philip Pacheco/AFP

The Federal Communications Commission is planning a field hearing in California following bipartisan pressure to get out of Washington and hear firsthand how last fall's wildfires affected communications networks in the state.

Why it matters: Power outages prompted by the fires brought cell sites down, interrupting wireless service for California residents. Policymakers hope informed guidance out of Washington could help minimize widespread outages next fire season.

Driving the news: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pressed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a letter this week to hold a field hearing in his district on the wildfires.

  • FCC spokesperson Tina Pelkey told Axios that plans are indeed in the works to hold a hearing in California.

Details: McCarthy said in his letter that a hearing could help inform wildfire-related recommendations the FCC may make upon completing an ongoing review of the voluntary framework that wireless companies formed for bolstering networks' ability to withstand disasters.

  • The House Energy & Commerce communications subcommittee held a hearing Thursday focused on network resiliency bills, including legislation from California Democrats that would require the FCC to hold public field hearings in areas affected by disasters.
  • The lawmakers who introduce the legislation — Reps. Doris Matsui, Anna Eshoo Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman — also urged Pai in a December letter to include targeted recommendations on wildfire responses in his review of the voluntary framework.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the FCC simply plans to hold its hearing in California, and not specifically in McCarthy’s district, as we originally wrote.

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