TR Daily FCC Seeks Wireless Carrier Plans for California Wildfires
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Thursday, September 12, 2019

FCC Seeks Wireless Carrier Plans for California Wildfires

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau asked the nation’s five largest wireless carriers today to provide details on how they will continue to operate if utilities in California shut off power in areas at high risk of wildfires.

“In recent years, the wildfires that have ravaged parts of California have affected communications networks and the public’s ability to reach 911. Now, to reduce the risk of electrical equipment triggering wildfires, certain California energy providers have announced plans to shut off power at times and in areas where the wildfire risk is high. Media coverage indicates that wireless providers have plans to maintain wireless service, should these shutdowns occur. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureau) would like to understand how AT&T intends to provide continued wireless service in the event of a power shutoff,” Lisa Fowlkes, the bureau’s chief, said in one of the letters, which were also sent to Verizon Communications, Inc., T-Mobile US, Inc., Sprint Corp., and United States Cellular Corp.

“Please provide, in writing, a description of all steps AT&T has taken, or plans to take, to mitigate the effects of these potential power shutoffs. AT&T’s response should include details related to its contingency plans to promote the continuity of communications for public safety officials and residents (including preparations to use back-up power), its strategy for outreach to consumers, and its plan for coordination with public safety officials, power companies, and other relevant stakeholders,” Ms. Fowlkes added. “Furthermore, the Bureau requests that AT&T advise on any additional measures it has taken to ensure the continued availability of communications in the event of a wildfire, such as the hardening of communications infrastructure or the construction of additional infrastructure in areas prone to wildfires. To the extent that AT&T finds certain industry best practices have been particularly helpful in preparation for potential power shutoffs or wildfires, please indicate those best practices and how AT&T has incorporated them, so we may better understand which ones are most effective for AT&T. We also encourage communications providers to review these industry best practices and implement those which are most useful as they prepare for wildfires or other disasters.”

In a blog posting today, Ms. Fowlkes said that she recently “traveled to Northern California to meet with public safety officials about a range of emergency communications topics. It was helpful to hear firsthand from these dedicated emergency managers about what’s working and where challenges remain. Needless to say, our conversation focused largely on the threats posed by wildfires and earthquakes, including how communications services are vital to protecting the public during such disasters.

“One topic with regard to wildfires is that California energy providers have announced plans to potentially shut off power at times and in areas where the wildfire risk is high. Wireless providers must be prepared for this scenario. Today I sent letters to the nation’s largest wireless providers asking what steps they are taking to help keep wireless service available for public safety officials and residents if power shutdowns occur, and what steps they are taking more generally to maintain service in the event of wildfires,” she added. “There are also actions that consumers can take to help maintain communications service when disaster strikes. I urge you to read our tips, which include advice on preparing for power outages and staying connected during an emergency.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews PublicSafety WirelessDeployment CaliforniaNews

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