Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Council oversight on public safety

Dear resident:

Picture for a moment the radios that first responders carry. These radios function by relaying signals through a network of dedicated towers placed around the County.

Firefighters, rescue and police officers need a new radio network. The current one is failing. Failing means that there are moments when the radio network becomes unreliable.

Radios and towers work as a system

Consider that firefighters in a burning structure or police officers calling for backup could get a busy signal instead of getting through. It has been happening. For hours one weekend this May, 75% of the channels went down.

A new system is nearly ready. County departments have been working to build the new 22 tower system for years. The “go live” plan for the new network is Fall of 2020.

Recently, however, there has been confusion as the County Executive moved to cancel two critical tower locations for the network, putting completion of the project into jeopardy.

Some residents nearby did not want a radio tower where it had been planned, inside of the cloverleaf intersection of Georgia Avenue and the ICC. They spoke out. A handful of residents also protested a proposed tower near the Potomac River.

Map of the 22 public safety radio towers

In response, the County Executive directed his staff to find alternatives.

Councilmembers became alarmed as we heard from firefighters and other emergency management personnel that without those two final towers, the network would not work as planned, particularly in Olney, Leisure World and the Potomac River basin.

“This issue is now a public safety emergency that requires immediate and swift action to avoid further increased risks to the safety of the citizens, and those public safety officers who risk their lives to serve them every day.” Montgomery County Firefighters Association

While searching for alternatives may sound reasonable, as it turns out, you can’t remove 1 of the 22 towers without:

  1. Deploying a network with coverage weak spots where towers are missing
  2. Reconfiguring the entire network, which is designed as an interdependent whole, possibly requiring a delay from the Fall 2020 go-live, meaning the County continues relying on the failing system for longer
  3. Searching for alternative locations, which has no clear timeline for success
  4. Building alternative towers that could cost taxpayers millions more than planned

None of these consequences are acceptable. That is why the Council voted unanimously to approve a capital budget amendment requiring the executive branch to move forward with the network as planned. Watch a video of my remarks on the budget amendment.

While the Council very much regrets the dis-satisfaction these two towers have caused for some, there are tens of thousands of residents in the Olney area and a million of us around the County who are counting on our first responders to be able to do their job, every minute of every day.

If an alternative location were available that would not delay the full network, cause the area to have lesser coverage in the interim, and cost the County millions of dollars, we could do that. But there isn’t.

In response to Council questions about the final remaining tower, Bretton Woods, the County Executive’s representative said, “we have run out of time because the process to research, finalize location, permit, build and test this alternative site is predicted to take more than 18 months. The Executive directed staff to condense the process as much as possible, but at this late date, the alternative site cannot be guaranteed to be ready for the December 2020 deadline.”

And that is why we need to move forward without delay on this critical public safety initiative. With our unanimous vote, the Council is insisting on it.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Vice President Riemer, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith to Speak at Landmark STEM Education Launch

“Invent the Future Challenge” kick-off at KID Museum in Bethesda on Thursday, November 30 at 11:30 a.m.,represents major investment in student-driven innovation

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 27, 2017—Council Vice President Hans Riemer and Dr. Jack Smith, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), will be among the featured speakers at the kick-off event for the “Invent the Future Challenge” on Thursday, November 30 at 11:30 a.m. at KID Museum in Bethesda. This new public-private partnership brings together the County, MCPS, and KID Museum to make a long-term investment in student engagement with the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It will bring hands-on STEM learning opportunities to children at every middle school in the MCPS system.

Cara Lesser, Founder and CEO of KID Museum, and Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, are also featured speakers at the launch. KID Museum is located at 6400 Democracy Boulevard, Bethesda, Md. 20817. Elected officials, members of the press, and education leaders are invited to attend.

The “Invent the Future Challenge” is a competition which will engage middle school students in the STEM fields and 21st century technology and professional skills, with special emphasis on the areas of design/engineering and electronics/coding. Teams of middle schoolers led by adult coordinators will compete for prizes using Challenge Starter Kits which include the Arduino electronics platform. The partnership provides scholarships for intensive, skill-building pre-competition workshops for low-income students at KID Museum.

“I’m excited to be part of launching this new partnership between MCPS and KID Museum to bring high-quality, data-driven, maker-based STEM learning programs to Montgomery County students,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “Last February I held a Countywide STEM Summit to help build these kinds of connections, and it is a win-win for us to support a great local organization and bring sorely needed new resources to our middle school students. For several years I have worked hard to increase County investments in new approaches to STEM and maker learning. It is thrilling to see MCPS embracing KID Museum and bring STEM education to middle school students throughout the County.”

Council Vice President Riemer has been a strong advocate for increasing resources for STEM education in the County. He moved to establish a Coding Fund and Maker Fund in the County budget, which provide small grants to community organizations. He has prioritized sponsoring the annual Maker Faire KIDfest and providing grants to nonprofits like KID Museum and others, and hosted the County’s first STEM Summit in early 2017.

Free parking is available on-site. For information about transit to the event, visit http://kid-museum.org/location/.

For questions or further information, contact Jason Fasteau in the Office of Council Vice President Riemer at 240-777-7964 or
Jason.Fasteau@montgomerycountymd.gov, or emma@kid-museum.org. Information about the event is also available at www.kid-museum.org/invent-the-future.

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Montgomery County Files FCC Comments and Pushes NACo to Defend Counties from Attacks on Local Zoning Authority for Small Cell Facilities

ROCKVILLE, MD., March 9, 2017—Montgomery County filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as part of the national Smart Communities Siting Coalition opposing a petition filed by telecommunications infrastructure company Mobilitie.

The petition filed by Mobilitie challenges local governments’ authority to manage the placement of, and charge rent for, communication facilities on public roads, sidewalks, and streetlights. The County filed Supplemental Comments indicating the County’s wireless policy has been successful. The County also asked that the FCC – which has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate radio frequency (RF) emissions – focus on completing the proceeding it opened four years ago to address the health effects on humans of RF emissions from telecommunications services.

This action comes on the heels of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Council Vice President Hans Riemer, and Council President Roger Berliner successfully sponsoring a National Association of Counties (NACo) policy resolution that opposed efforts at the Federal and State levels to preempt local zoning authority for the siting of “small cell” wireless facilities.

“We recognize that some amendment to our zoning code may be needed to address small cell facilities, which may need to be deployed deeper in neighborhoods than macro cell technology,” said Riemer. “But communities should have a say over how the infrastructure is deployed, and we should be able to charge a reasonable fee for commercial use of our roads and sidewalks. We can reach a win-win solution that enables deployment while preserving community interests.”

In the filing, the County states it is unreasonable that the Commission leaves it to local government to explain to constituents why the Commission has not updated its radio RF emission standards in 20 years. The County also points out that the FCC has neglected, in four years, to complete its work on this very issue, while simultaneously finding time, at the request of industry, to consider whether more preemption of local decision-making for small cell deployments is necessary.

“Montgomery County must retain the ability to protect residents’ interest in not crowding neighborhoods with new poles.” said Leggett. “I am confident we can do so without sacrificing our goal to keep Montgomery County the most connected County in America. But local solutions, not federal preemption, are the answer.”

Montgomery County has worked constructively with residents and the wireless industry, reviewing 2,900 applications over 20 years. To date, 1,121 wireless facilities are deployed in 534 unique locations within the County.

“We must send a clear message that any preemption efforts at the Federal or State level on this matter are not in the best interests of our County’s residents,” Berliner said. “Our County needs to retain our authority to reduce the adverse impacts of small cell towers on our residents and determine what can be done to protect the quality of life of our neighborhoods.”

More small cells are needed to meet growing demand for wireless broadband. Small cells are installed as lower heights than existing tall “macrocell” telecommunications towers. Macrocell equipment is dumpster size, whereas small cell equipment is 120-qt camping cooler size. Montgomery County has received applications for more than 250 small cell antennas in 6 months, and anticipates another 500 applications in the next 18 months.

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Progress Report on Broadband / High Speed Digital Networks

As the County Council’s Lead for Digital Government, I have articulated a vision for a digital Montgomery County, proposing policies that will enable our community to lean forward on technology and innovation.

With the rise of cloud computing, there is great urgency for establishing next-generation data networks that will enable researchers, entrepreneurs and government to operate at the cutting edge. I believe our continued economic progress depends on it, and that is why I have proposed a comprehensive strategy, detailed in two white papers, “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Networks” and a “Montgomery County Digital Infrastructure Strategic Plan.”

I am now pleased to report that we are making real progress. Working collaboratively with my colleagues on the County Council, particularly at the Government Operations (GO) Committee, where I serve with Chair Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Sidney Katz, and technologists in the executive branch, this vision is becoming a reality.

Years ago, Montgomery County made a wise decision to build a fiber optic data network, called FIberNet. Today, more than 567 sites — schools, libraries, rec centers, and government buildings — operate on that network. This is a remarkable achievement that puts Montgomery County in a leadership class of local governments.

Many years of constrained budgets, however, caused investment in fibernet maintenance to slide — a problem that must be remedied. With the new fibernet budget requested by the GO Committee and included in the FY17 budget, the county is turning that around. The $4 million annual fibernet budget, funded by fees on cable providers, along with a Network Operations Center, will ensure not only that the county government will get the benefit of a first class network but also so that the network can offer a market-competitive service for the private sector that can be used to generate revenue in the future.

Now we are ready to move more aggressively.

Building data networks for economic progress

The County’s economic strengths in the life, earth, bio and cybersecurity sectors are significant, and the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, and others helps ensure that we have one of the most specialized and highly-educated workforces in the world. As the data-oriented (including real time video) work in these industries moves to the cloud, the county will need to be at the cutting edge in network capacity, so that the industries can operate seamlessly in the cloud — or the county will risk losing the advantage it has from hosting these organizations as they may shift investment to other locations.

In response to my first white paper on the nexus of broadband and economic development and the ongoing pressure of the Government Operations committee to move forward on this issue, the County Executive officially launched “ultraMontgomery” in 2014, and has recommended substantial funding for the program in this year’s budget. Key markers include:

The County is also actively exploring policy and regulatory changes that facilitate greater access to commercial high-speed networks, including new building codes and certifications for fiber-ready buildings, the creation of a Broadband Smart Map, and “Dig Once” policies.

Promoting access for residents

Broadband networks are core infrastructure, just like water pipes, roads, and schools. Government must take ownership over planning for the future of this infrastructure in order to benefit the residents.

Thanks to funding approved by the Council and with the reach provided by FiberNet, the County is adding 15 new locations with public WiFi and upgrading 17 more, for a total of 65. See the full list of current County WiFi locations here (page 6). At my request, the County has also agreed to make public WiFi available outside in the new Wheaton Town Square as part of the Wheaton Redevelopment Project.

To expand opportunities for people who ride buses, as well as make buses more attractive for those who otherwise can drive, RideOn will soon pilot public WiFi on a number of buses, as I argued for here. The pilot project will also test smart applications in the bus and shelter environment aimed at improving the riding experience and ultimately increasing ridership. These deployments are but a small sample of what is to come in the next few years.

With over 200 schools linked by FiberNet, MCPS is ready to expand the role of technology in education. With strong support from the Education and Government Operations Committee, chromebooks are already integrated into the curriculum for 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders as well has high school social studies classes. The plan is expand the rollout to the 7th grade, half of the 8th grade, and one high school content area this year. Students learn the new collaborative models for research, writing, and presentation projects through Google Apps for Education.

The “homework gap” is a term used to describe how some kids do not have the web access they need at home to complete their homework. The Council’s Education and Government Operations Committees recently held a hearing on how the County is addressing the homework gap and what can be done to improve our efforts. As a result of that discussion, MCPS is conducting further study about device gaps and broadband gaps. Agencies are working together to promote the $10 per month Comcast internet program for low income families, and the county has joined other jurisdictions, including through a resolution I introduced which passed at the National Association of Counties, as well as a letter from Next Century Cities, which I pressed the County to join, to support a new FCC requirement for telecom companies to subsidize broadband, not just land line, access (pdf).

It is clear that no one solution exists for combatting the “homework gap,” but as devices such as chromebooks become an integral part of the MCPS learning environment, we are focused on the problem.

Access in rural communities is a national concern, and more than one third of our county is set aside for farming. This area, nearly 100,000 acres, is called the Agricultural Reserve. Because we are committed to the success of the Ag Reserve, we must provide broadband service to the more than 2,000 properties there that do not have it today. That is why the County participated in a demonstration of 1gb Wireless technology that could be leveraged in the Ag Reserve, and the County, with encouragement from council member Roger Berliner, also negotiated reduced charges for Ag Reserve residents who want to link up to the Comcast network there — a model that may be extendable to other providers as well.

A Roadmap and Reorganization

These ideas and more are coming together in a Broadband Roadmap, now underway, which will lay out the county’s comprehensive vision of leveraging ultra high-speed broadband networks for economic development and community benefit. This roadmap, which I requested of the executive branch, will ultimately bear the stamp of not only the Leggett Administration, but the County Council, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, technologist residents, and other network stakeholders.

At my request, the County Executive has also agreed to consider reorganizing broadband responsibilities in our Department of Technology Services, to better align our staffing structure with our goals and make more effective investments in the program. While I initially proposed to create a Broadband Authority to take independent ownership of the function, as other jurisdictions are also considering, I agree that we should proceed carefully here and we may be able to achieve our goals with reorganization rather than creating an external entity. Time will tell.