FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel today called “really shameful” the fact that the Commission did not issue a report after last year’s major hurricanes on the impact of the storms on communications networks, including with recommendations for improving preparation in the future.
During a one-on-one session this morning at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s Public Safety Broadband Summit, Ms. Rosenworcel noted that the FCC has released reports after other major disasters, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and that they included lessons learned and recommendations for improved preparation and response, including concerning 911 and other public safety communications.
“In the aftermath of every major disaster, the agency should issue a report about how communications fared,” she said. “I think it is vitally important to decide that we’re not just going to monitor these disasters, we’re going to learn from them.”
She added, “And I think it’s really shameful that in the aftermath of last year, that we did not do that.”
Asked for a response on Ms. Rosenworcel’s comment, an FCC spokesperson said, “The people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have asked the FCC for action, not a report, and that’s exactly what the FCC has delivered. Along those lines, it is disappointing that certain people at the Commission like to talk about the hurricanes but have been delaying action on Chairman [Ajit] Pai’s proposal to create a $750 million Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and a $200 million Connect USVI Fund to help with the short-term restoration of communications networks and long-term expansion of broadband deployment throughout the islands. Indeed, one might even call it shameful.”
The statement clearly referred to Ms. Rosenworcel, but the votes of Mr. Pai’s fellow Republicans for the item are not certain.
Last month (TR Daily, April 24), Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said that he would “find it difficult to support” the funding for Puerto Rico “without strong assurances that Puerto Rico is prepared to put an end to  fee diversion practices once and for all. Without this guarantee, the Commission is putting precious USF support at risk for being wasted or diverted.”
Last December, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a public notice seeking comments on “the resiliency of the communications infrastructure, the effectiveness of emergency communications, and government and industry responses to the 2017 hurricane season” (TR Daily, Dec. 7). “The Bureau will identify, from the comments received, areas for further exploration in workshop(s) to be held in the coming months on improving future response efforts,” it said.
Last month, the bureau held a workshop “to identify communications information needs of government and consumers to improve preparation and response efforts during crises” (TR Daily, April 13).
Ms. Rosenworcel also said today that it’s important for policy-makers and other stakeholders to agree on what next-generation 911 (NG-911) deployment means, including public safety answering points (PSAPs) being able to receive and forward pictures and video and being interoperable with other PSAPs, which would allow call re-routing.
“Going forward, I think it’s necessary to have a common vision” of NG-911, she added. “That is missing from a lot of policy conversations right now, and my hope is that there is a growing consensus to fix that.”
She said she hopes that NG-911 criteria for a $115 million grant program authorized by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 will include provisions “that we can all organize around.” And the Commissioner said that any infrastructure package in Washington should include NG-911 provisions.
Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director-government relations for APCO who moderated this morning’s session, noted concern about various apps that tout they can provide “precise location” to users, even when they might not be able to (TR Daily, April 5).
Ms. Rosenworcel agreed that it can be a problem.
The Commissioner noted the indoor location-accuracy mandates imposed by the FCC (TR Daily, Jan. 29, 2015) and added, “One of the things I do wish we would do is actually be more public about the gains being made … because there are real gains being made.”
Mr. Cohen cited ride-sharing services such as Uber Technologies, Inc., and said, “It’s a little irresponsible to draw comparisons [with 911 location accuracy] because 911’s serious business.” Mr. Cohen and Ms. Rosenworcel said such services often cannot find them to pick them up.
Regarding wireless emergency alerts, Ms. Rosenworcel praised the FCC for adopting an order in January to require participating carriers to transmit alerts over more precise geographic areas (TR Daily, Jan. 30). She also emphasized the potential benefits of enabling multimedia alerts and alerts in foreign languages, in addition to Spanish. Ms. Rosenworcel also said she is “intrigued” by a potential many-to-one capability that could enable the public to send messages back to alert originators with helpful information for responders.
Ms. Rosenworcel also stressed the need to improve alerting in the wake of the false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii (TR Daily, Jan. 16). “We’re going to have to learn what went wrong and do better,” she said, adding that, among other things, the FCC should push states to adopt best practices and update their state Emergency Alert System plans regularly.
On another public safety issue, Ms. Rosenworcel said the community and other advocates should continue to push for the federal reclassification of PSAP call-takers into the “protective service” job category. “Because I think there’s dignity that follows from it,” she added. Mr. Cohen said that telecommunicators face “a recognition gap.”
In remarks during an earlier session at the APCO event, Mr. Cohen stressed the need for Congress to pass legislation to provide a one-time injection of funding to help states and localities upgrade their 911 systems for NG-911.
He said the funding should come with several conditions, including requiring (1) establishment of sustained seamless interoperability, (2) leveraging of widely deployed communications standards, (3) establishment of sustained funding mechanisms, (4) prevention of 911 fee diversion, and (5) use of open and competitive procurements.
Mr. Cohen also emphasized the need for “a uniform and comprehensive definition of 911.” The definition should include stating that PSAPs have to be able to receive, analyze, and share multimedia messages, he said.
During another session this afternoon, Steve Malkos, technical program manager for Google LLC, touted the benefits of his company’s free emergency location services (ELS) offering, which he said has already exceeded location-accuracy mandates imposed by the FCC for 2022, which requires providing a location fix using technologies capable of providing dispatchable location or 80% of 911 calls within 50 meters.
The Google service is currently being offered in 14 countries to more than 130 million people, Mr. Malkos said, adding, “I’m a little bit surprised at how slow the uptick has been in the U.S.” He said Google is looking for partners to deploy the service, including government, mobile virtual network operator, and public safety vendor partners.
He also stressed that the computing location is determined by the location of the Android handset, adding, “Nothing ever comes back to Google.”
Eric Hagerson, principal manager-federal regulatory affairs for T-Mobile US, Inc., said carriers want “closer coordination” with Google and others that deploy such supplemental location-accuracy services.
Last month, the wireless industry, APCO, and the National Emergency Number Association asked the FCC to issue guidance on 911 apps for smartphones “and supplemental data solutions” to ensure there is proper coordination of their use among 911 stakeholders (TR Daily, April 5).
An ex parte filing continued, “Recently, companies have begun offering supplemental data solutions to PSAPs to trial in live 9-1-1 environments with real, actual 9-1-1 calls, without the knowledge of the wireless providers operating in trial areas. Evaluating such solutions in live environments may yield important data, but doing so can have consequences for live 9-1-1 calls if not carefully coordinated among 9-1-1 ecosystem stakeholders. For this reason, the parties encouraged the Commission to issue guidance so that any testing, trialing or use of 9-1-1 apps or supplemental data solutions do not have unintended consequences that may adversely impact existing 9-1-1 capabilities or create confusion among PSAPs or members of the public.”
The filing cited a trial of West Corp.’s wireless dispatchable location services and Google’s ELS technologies in Florida, Georgia, and Washington state, and RapidSOS, Inc., and Google ELS testing in Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. —Paul Kirby, pa[email protected]
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