The FCC today released a six-item, wireless-heavy tentative agenda for its March 22 meeting that includes an order streamlining its historic and environmental review rules, an order relaxing its consumer signal booster regulations, a second further notice of proposed rulemaking tackling unwanted calls to reassigned numbers, a sixth FNRPM proposing changes to its 4.9 gigahertz band framework, a notice of inquiry examining ways to ensure that 911 calls are routed to the correct call center, and an NPRM proposing streamlining of the reauthorization process for television satellite stations.
The meeting is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., one hour earlier than usual, at the request of a Commissioner.
As Commissioner Brendan Carr announced yesterday (TR Daily, Feb. 28), the wireless infrastructure second report and order in WT docket 17-79 would clarify that the deployment of small cells by private parties doesn’t constitute a “federal undertaking” under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or a “major federal action” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) (see separate story).
It also would remove the requirement that applicants submit environmental assessments (EAs) because a proposed facility is in a floodplain if the facility is at least one foot above the base flood elevation. The order would also clarify the tribal participation process for section 106 reviews under NHPA and establish timeframes for the FCC to act on EAs.
“Most importantly, it would find that the private sector’s deployment of certain small wireless facilities shouldn’t trigger federal historic preservation and environmental reviews,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a blog posting today. “Red tape like this is not only unnecessary for small cells, but also increases the cost and slows down the deployment of wireless networks.”
The Commission also tentatively plans to consider a second report and order in WT docket 10-4 to remove the personal use restriction for provider-specific consumer signal boosters. A companion second FNPRM seeks comment on ways the FCC can further expand access to consumer signal boosters. The item would follow up on signal booster rules adopted by the FCC in 2013 (TR Daily, Feb. 20, 2013).
“Overly restrictive regulations not only stifle the private sector; they also ultimately hurt consumers,” Mr. Pai said in his blog posting. “That’s been the case with signal boosters, which are basically devices that improve wireless coverage by amplifying wireless signals. To be sure, the FCC’s 2013 rules authorizing the use of signal boosters have been a net positive for consumers by allowing them to get better coverage in areas where signals are weak, such as in their basement or on their commute through rural areas. But the current rules unnecessarily restrict these boosters to personal use, preventing small businesses and other organizations from taking advantage of these devices.
“Given credible evidence that boosters will not cause interference under existing safeguards, the FCC will vote on March 22 on eliminating the personal use restriction and allowing boosters to be used in business settings for the benefit of employees or the general public,” Mr. Pai added. “In addition, the FCC will seek public input on ways to increase the availability of signal boosters. Proposals we’re considering include expanding the spectrum bands in which boosters may operate and making it easier to embed boosters in vehicles. Our goal is pretty simple: to give consumers who want better wireless coverage more options for getting it.”
The original booster rules authorized provider-specific boosters, which extended the coverage of only one carrier, and wideband boosters, which extended the coverage of all carriers within range. Both types were limited to personal use by carrier subscribers.
In addition to seeking comments on expanding booster operations to additional bands and proposing to remove restrictions on boosters within vehicles, the second FNPRM also proposes “to facilitate enterprise use of Consumer Signal Boosters by (1) eliminating the personal use restriction on Wideband Consumer Signal Boosters and (2) authorizing non-subscribers to operate both types of Consumer Signal Boosters. These changes would, for example, enable a small business in an area with poor wireless coverage to use a Consumer Signal Booster to improve coverage for its employees and customers on all wireless networks,” a fact sheet said.
Also on today’s tentative agenda is the draft second FNPRM in the agency’s robocall proceeding that would seek input on the possibility of using a database of reassigned phone numbers that businesses and other parties could use to avoid making unwanted calls to a new subscriber whose number was previously assigned to a consumer who had consented to receiving calls from them.
The item in CG docket 17-59 says, “The problem of unwanted calls to reassigned numbers can have important consequences for both consumers and callers. Beyond annoying the new subscriber of the reassigned number, a misdirected call can deprive the previous subscriber of the number of a desired call from, for example, their school, health care provider, or financial institution. In the case of prerecorded or automated voice calls (robocalls) to reassigned numbers, a good faith caller may be subject to liability for violations of the TCPA [Telephone Consumer Protection Act]. That threat can have a chilling effect, causing some callers to be overly cautious and stop making wanted, lawful calls out of concern over potential liability for calling a reassigned number.”
The item follows an NOI issued last year on the possibility of making number reassignment information available to robocallers so that they can ensure they are calling individuals who have authorized such contacts (TR Daily, July 13, 2017).
The draft second FNRPM would “propose to ensure that one or more databases are available to provide callers with the comprehensive and timely information they need to avoid calling reassigned numbers,” according to a fact sheet on the circulated item.
It would also “[s]eek comment on the information that callers who choose to use a reassigned numbers database need from such a database” and on “the best way for [telephone] service providers to report that information and for callers to access that information.” The draft second FNPRM suggests three alternative methods: “(1) requiring service providers to report reassigned number information to a single, FCC-designated database; (2) requiring service providers to report that information to one or more commercial data aggregators; or (3) allowing service providers to report that information to commercial data aggregators on a voluntary basis.”
Finally, the draft second FNPRM would “[s]eek comment on whether, and if so, how the Commission should adopt a safe harbor from liability under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for those callers that choose to use a reassigned numbers database.”
The item also would ask questions about protecting subscribers’ privacy and data security.
Regarding the robocall item, Chairman Pai said in his blog post, “As we’re unleashing the benefits of communications technologies, we also want to minimize the downsides. And judging from consumers’ complaints to the FCC, the biggest frustration related to modern communications is unwanted robocalls. The Commission has engaged in an aggressive, multi-front battle against these constant irritants, and one of the fronts in this war is the issue of unwanted calls to reassigned numbers. When you disconnect your phone number and get a new one, you probably don’t notify everyone who has called you in the past, including businesses (like pharmacies or electric utilities) to whom you’ve given permission to call. So when your old phone number is reassigned to someone else, the new subscriber starts getting calls that were meant for you. This not only annoys the new number-holder, but can also subject the callers to liability. At this month’s open meeting, the FCC will vote on finding ways to tackle this reassigned numbers problem. Among other ideas, we’ll explore the creation of a single database that callers could use to check and see if phone numbers have been reassigned.”
The sixth FNPRM in WP docket 07-100 proposes a myriad of actions for the 4.9 GHz band, which stakeholders have been waiting years for.
A draft item was circulated in November 2016 during the tenure of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (TR Daily, Nov. 10, 2016), but it was pulled from circulation along with a number of other items after Chairman Pai took over the agency (TR Daily, Jan. 30, 2017).
In 2012, FCC Commissioners, saying they were disappointed that the public safety community hadn’t used the 4.9 GHz band more intensively, adopted a fifth FNPRM seeking views on proposals to spur higher utilization of the spectrum, including by opening the band up to wireless carriers on a secondary basis and critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities such as utilities on a primary basis (TRDaily, June 13, 2012).
The agency received a number of filings in response to that item, including a national plan submitted by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (TRDaily, Oct. 24, 2013), a white paper filed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (TRDaily, Sept. 28, 2015), and other input.
A fact sheet on the item circulated for the FCC’s March 22 meeting said it (1) proposes “to expand the channel aggregation bandwidth limit to 40 megahertz”; (2) proposes “to allow public safety aeronautical mobile and robotic use on 5 megahertz of spectrum”; (3) proposes “to require applicants for new stations and licensees seeking modifications to submit to frequency coordination administered by FCC-certified frequency coordinators”; (4) proposes “to maintain the Universal Licensing System to serve as the frequency coordination database and modify the 4.9 GHz band application form to capture additional data”; (5) proposes “to require existing licensees with point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, base, and mobile stations to seek licenses for such stations in the database so their operations can be protected during future coordination”; (6) proposes “to restart the filing process for regional plans”; (7) proposes “to accord primary status for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links that carry or support narrowband traffic on five 1-megahertz channels”; (8) proposes “to raise the minimum antenna gain for point-to-point transmitting antennas to 26 dBi to allow for more directional transmissions and larger antennas”; (9) proposes “to revise the construction notification deadlines from 18 months after license grant to 12 months”; (10) proposes “to grandfather existing licensees and their installed systems”; (11) seeks “comment on alternative eligibility for entities such as Critical Infrastructure Industries”; and (12) seeks “comment on leasing, spectrum sharing approaches, and alternative uses.”
Regarding eligibility to use the spectrum, the FCC would seek comment on alternative eligibility and spectrum sharing approaches, noting that NPSTC’s plan proposed expanding co-primary status eligibility to CII entities. The item would seek comments on extending eligibility to CII entities, leasing, two-tiered sharing on a secondary basis, and other alternatives.
NPSTC Chair Ralph Haller said today that “NPSTC is pleased that the Commission has moved forward with the 4.9 GHz issue and that many of the NPSTC proposals have been adopted or considered in the current proposal. We will need time to consider all of the issues in detail, but the proposal provides a good basis to consider changes to the band, including allowing CII licensees on a co-primary basis. A major concern is the potential of extending eligibility to essentially any entity, even if licensed as a Tier 2 (secondary) user. Real time or dynamic frequency coordination may not be sufficient to prevent interference to public safety entities, and may not work at all. Of even more concern is opening the band fully or in part to commercial wireless or Part 15 unlicensed uses.”
“We are pleased to see that the draft item would seek to preserve primary public safety use on a certified frequency coordinated basis,” said APCO Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Derek Poarch. “APCO looks forward to thoroughly reviewing this proposal and continuing to actively participate in this proceeding.”
“This is a positive development and welcome news for utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII),” said Brett Kilbourne, general counsel and vice president-policy for the Utilities Technology Council. “At first blush, the draft appears to address many of the priorities UTC has identified in support of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council Plan. Spectrum is the key to the grid-modernization engine, and this is an important and crucial first step.”
In the NOI in PS docket 18-64 concerning location-based routing to 911 calls, the FCC plans to examine ways to ensure that calls get routed to the proper 911 enter. Currently, calls can get routed to the wrong public safety answering point (PSAP) because call routing has relied on the location of the nearest cell tower, which may not be close to a caller’s location.
“Every second counts in an emergency, so these delays can have a huge impact. The good news is that technology now can help route calls to the correct call center without the need for a transfer,” Mr. Pai said in the blog posting. “I’m therefore asking my fellow commissioners to join me in launching an inquiry to figure out how widespread a problem this is and how we can ensure that 911 calls are routed based on the location of the caller as opposed to the location of the cell tower that handles that call.”
A fact sheet said the item (1) examines “how the delays that arise from cell tower-based routing of wireless 911 calls can be avoided, possibly resulting in faster response times, via the implementation of location-based routing solutions”; (2) asks “detailed questions about the state of location based routing technologies, their maturity, and their utility in supporting more accurate routing of wireless 911 calls”; (3) seeks “comment on the recommendations regarding location-based routing made by the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) in September 2016”; (4) asks “for information about the costs and benefits of location based routing technologies, existing and evolving standards for routing methodologies, and the capabilities of next-generation 911 to support or drive location based routing technologies”; and (5) seeks “comment on how the Commission can facilitate and promote location-based routing improvements.”
“Location-based routing is a fundamental element of NG9-1-1 that will decrease the time it takes to respond to emergencies,” the National Emergency Number Association said. “The FCC itself estimates that 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the emergency dispatching system (9-1-1) could get help one minute sooner to those calling for emergency assistance. NENA is glad to see the Commission taking action on this important issue and thanks them for their continued commitment to improving our nation’s 9-1-1 system.”
“APCO appreciates this forward-looking initial inquiry, to help set the stage for deploying improved routing of wireless 9-1-1 calls,” Mr. Poarch said. “This Notice also serves as another example of the need for PSAPs throughout the country to have the resources they need to quickly, smartly, and fully transition to Next Generation 9-1-1 services, in a seamlessly interoperable and innovative fashion.”
Finally, the tentative agenda includes a draft NPRM aimed at streamlining the reauthorization process for television satellite stations that are assigned or transferred in combination with a previously approved parent station.
The draft NPRM in MB dockets 18-63 and 17-105 would “[p]ropose to streamline the process for reauthorizing television satellite stations when they are assigned or transferred in combination with their previously approved parent station while ensuring that the Commission and public have adequate information to assess whether reauthorization serves the public interest,” according to a fact sheet.
It would also “[s]eek comment on a proposal whereby the applicants to the transaction could: (1) certify that there has been no material change in the underlying circumstances that the Commission relied upon in granting the current satellite authorization, and (2) provide a copy of the most recent decision granting that authorization.”
The draft TV satellite station reauthorization NPRM would “[t]entatively conclude that if the above two criteria are met, station owners would not have to make the full showing that currently is required and the Commission would not need to provide a written decision granting such reauthorization.”
In his blog post, Chairman Pai said that the TV satellite station item is “the latest reform to come out of our media modernization initiative. When broadcast television entities come to the FCC hoping to assign or transfer a satellite station in the context of a transaction, that station’s status as a ‘satellite’ must be reauthorized. Such reauthorization traditionally requires the broadcast entity to make the same rigorous showing that was required initially when the station was formally designated a satellite by the Commission. Some folks have argued that requiring the same evidentiary showing for a reauthorization request is unnecessarily costly and burdensome in many cases, both for the applicants and the Commission; everyone knows the duck still quacks like a duck, so to speak, so the current process is wasteful. In three weeks, we’ll vote on a proposal to streamline the process for reauthorizing satellite stations when they are assigned or transferred.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected], and Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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