Public Safety Groups Welcome Draft 4.9 GHz Band Stay Order

Courtesy: TR Daily

Public safety groups today welcomed a draft order circulated to FCC Commissioners this week that sources said would stay the 4.9 gigahertz band order that the agency adopted last September over the objections of Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, now acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, and public safety entities that complained that the new regime would hinder the ability of first responders to use the frequencies (TR Daily, April 29).

Several public safety groups have asked the FCC to vacate the order, which was adopted in WP docket 07-100 (TR Daily, Sept. 30, 2020) and “permits one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties—including commercial and public safety users—in those states that the FCC has not identified as a diverter of 911 fees,” the FCC noted in a news release issued when the item was adopted. “The Report and Order does not limit or modify the rights of any incumbent public safety licensees, so they will be able to continue to provide existing services. These new rules also eliminate the requirement that leased spectrum must be used to support public safety but would require lessees to adhere to the informal coordination requirements applicable to the band.”

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International filed petitions for reconsideration and the PSSA also filed a petition for stay (TR Daily, Jan. 4). The public safety groups asked the Commission to vacate the sixth report and order and accompanying seventh further notice of proposed rulemaking. A dozen major public safety groups had urged the FCC to pull the item from the agenda for the meeting at which it was adopted. The draft order was circulated on Wednesday, according to the FCC’s weekly list of circulated items.

“The stay is an important issue for public safety.  We are hopeful that the entire commission sees the interoperability chaos which results from reverting to a state by state approach. This is a necessary step to recreate a full record on how best to achieve the FCC’s goals and yet support public safety,” said Jeff Johnson, chief executive officer of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and a leader of the PSSA.

“NPSTC is pleased that the FCC is revisiting the 4.9 GHz issue,” said Ralph Haller, chair of the federation. “This is an important band that needs to be preserved for public safety use.  While the marketplace can function well in many areas, subjecting public safety spectrum to marketplace forces, as was proposed by turning the band over to the states, could destroy critical public safety communications needs.”

Jim Goldstein, director-government relations for NPSTC, said, “NPSTC was disappointed that the FCC did not follow the previous recommendations NPSTC made for 4.9 GHz. The NPSTC proposal would have resulted in a complete database of current and future use, implemented nationwide frequency coordination to prevent uncertainty due to interference, allowed for some dedicated uses like robotics, and opened use of the band to critical infrastructure organizations. This would have assured that the band would serve the needs of public safety well into the future. Under the FCC’s current plan, there is no certainty that public safety needs will be met, based on the decisions made in each state. The plan potentially promotes a profit motive within a state rather than assuring adequate public safety access to the band.”  

APCO Executive Director and CEO Derek Poarch said, “We appreciate Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s circulation of a stay order. As we and many others in public safety have made clear, the 4.9 GHz order was ill-conceived and unlikely to promote public safety or the Commission’s spectrum utilization goals. A stay would be appropriate to enable the Commission to chart a much better course for this band.”

“I applaud Acting FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s move to circulate a stay to FCC Commissioners on the Commission’s previous 4.9 GHz order,” said Kenneth Stuebing, acting president and chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “Public safety communications on the 4.9 GHz band provide mission-critical support for local public safety agencies, such as hosting broadband intranet networks and bomb disposal robot operations. As new technologies are adapted for public safety usage this spectrum will become increasingly important to the first responder community. It is critical that 4.9 GHz spectrum remains available for public safety. I urge the FCC Commissioners to support the Acting Chairwoman’s stay on the 4.9 GHz spectrum order.”

“We stand firm on our position that 4.9 is a welcome resource for public safety, and that the ‘under-used’ argument is no longer relevant,” said Kevin McGinnis, communications technology adviser to the National Association of State EMS Officials. “FirstNet has opened a door that has revealed more critical uses for this bandwidth in EMS as it has for all of public safety and we are jumping onboard so that our patients benefit. The pandemic has emphasized our need for telehealth capability so that we can safely test, treat, and intervene in life-threatening emergencies without putting responders at risk. This is but one example of how 4.9 will serve our increasing need—a need that can’t be met by the fragmented coordination created by the 2020 Order. EMS systems do not stop at state lines.”

An FCC spokesperson declined to comment. 

“This decision is unfortunate,” said Ms. Rosenworcel said in her dissent on the item. “It is not the right way forward for the 4.9 GHz band. It is a slapdash effort to try to foster use of this spectrum by giving states the right to divert public safety communications in exchange for revenue. This approach has virtually no support in the record. However, it does have opposition from a wide range of stakeholders from wireless carriers to public safety officials.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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Klobuchar to Reintroduce NG-911 Legislation

Courtesy: TR Daily

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) has announced that she plans to reintroduce next-generation 911 (NG-911) legislation in the Senate and said she hopes it will be included in an infrastructure package that moves in that chamber. The legislation would establish a federal grant program, she noted.

In pre-taped remarks for a virtual awards ceremony organized by the Next Generation 911 Institute in conjunction with NENA’s virtual 911 Goes to Washington event, Sen. Klobuchar said she would reintroduce the NG-911 bill with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.).

Ms. Klobuchar, a Senate co-chair of the Congressional Next-Gen 9-1-1 Caucus, said that provisions of NG-911 legislation she introduced in the 116th Congress were included in House infrastructure bill that passed the House last summer (TR Daily, July 1, 2020).

The senator’s office did not reply to a question today on when Sen. Klobuchar planned to reintroduce the legislation.

In other remarks, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said she wants to work with her colleagues on bipartisan NG-911 legislation. She also noted that Congress has directed the FCC to address the diversion by states of 911 fees for other purposes.

Also, Rep. Richard Hudson (R., N.C.), a House co-chair of the Congressional Next-Gen 9-1-1 Caucus, said NG-911 issues are traditionally bipartisan.

Meanwhile, NENA and National Association of 911 Administrators (NASNA) officials who spoke at the  911 event reiterated their call for Congress to make what they suggested are minor changes to NG-911 provisions in the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act. The Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) also expressed support for changes to the bill.

The LIFT America Act, which was introduced by the 32 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (TR Daily, March 11), includes $15 billion for grants to fund NG-911 deployment.

NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes said he wants to “set the record straight” on comments by “another organization” that he said “has mischaracterized NENA as opposing the legislation. That is clearly not the case. We do, however, support improving the language in a few areas of the statute.”

“We do believe they’re easy fixes, and we hope that those fixes will be made,” Mr. Fontes said, adding that “through these changes, we are convinced that the grant program will be more efficient, effective, and achievable in a timely manner.”

Mr. Fontes had no comment in response to a TR Daily question via e-mail about whether he was referring to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, which has noted concerns that NENA and NASNA have with the bill and said that complaints about the legislation “are based either on misrepresentations of the bill language or just plain misinformation” (TR Daily, March 31). APCO is one of eight major public safety groups lobbying for the bill as part of the Public Safety Next Generation 9-1-1- Coalition.

Dan Henry, NENA’s regulatory counsel and director-government affairs, said that the group’s top priority concerning the legislation is modifying the definition of “commonly accepted standards,” which he said could exclude NENA’s i3 standard.

The definition of commonly accepted standards should not require the i3 standard, GIS (geographic information system) standards, and other standards to be approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and meet the bill’s definition of “interoperable” while not requiring other standards to meet that definition, NENA and NASNA have argued. NENA has 50 standards that haven’t been approved by ANSI, Mr. Henry said.

Mr. Henry said that lawmakers should modify the bill so commonly accepted standards are those “followed by the communications industry that enable interoperability, are consensus-based, and are developed by recognized standards development organizations.”

Mr. Henry detailed other changes that NENA and NASNA are pushing in the NG-911 legislation.

He said that (1) the definition of “interoperable” should recognize that proprietary interfaces may be needed during the NG-911 transition, (2) the Public Safety Advisory Board should be staffed with NG-911 experts, (3) the mission of a nationwide NG-911 security operations center should be clarified or establishment of the center should be deleted from the bill, and (4) Congress should defer to the FCC on reliability requirements rather than imposing additional mandates.

NASNA President Maria Jacques and NASNA Executive Director Harriet Rennie-Brown also discussed the NG-911 legislation, especially the current standards definition.

“This goes way beyond the battle of NENA i3,” Ms. Jacques said. “What about the other standards” of NENA’s and GIS standards that are not ANSI accredited? she asked.

Don Brittingham, president of consulting firm Northern Lights Consulting LLC and chair of iCERT’s Policy Committee, outlined concerns his group has with the NG-911 legislation.

He said it is also concerned with the standards definition, saying it is “overly prescriptive” and “inherently biased.” He said the bill treated i3 and other standards unfairly and said that lawmakers should amend the bill to support all NG-911 standards.

Regarding cyber provisions, Mr. Brittingham said iCERT has concerns that the bill, through establishment of the national NG-911 security operations center, puts responsibilities on the federal government instead of states.

Instead, the bill should mirror a recommendation by the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) dealing with implementation of state-based emergency communications cybersecurity centers (EC3) to provide intrusion detection and protection services for public safety answering points (PSAPs) in states.

Mr. Brittingham also said there should be “explicit requirements” allowing grant funds to be used for cybersecurity.

In other remarks at today’s show, Rep. Norma Torres (D., Calif.), a former 911 dispatcher, noted that the 911 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (911 SAVES) Act that she introduced recently with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) (TR Daily, April 2) has 50 cosponsors.

She said more cosponsors will convince the House Education and Labor Committee to hold a hearing on the legislation, and 290 cosponsors would allow the bill to be brought directly to the House floor. “Your voice is more critical than ever,” she told the public safety community.

The legislation would direct the Office of Management and Budget to change the classification of 911 dispatchers in the Standard Occupational Classification catalog. The dispatchers are currently classified as administrative support staff; advocates of the change want them to be classified as a protective service occupation. NENA said passage of the legislation is its No. 2 legislative goal after the NG-911 bill.

David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, ran down a list of 911 and other issues that the agency has worked on.

For example, he said the agency is “on track” to meet a June 25 statutory deadline for adopting new 911 fee diversion rules and expects a 911 fee diversion “strike force” to begin meeting in May or June. The panel is required to submit a report to Congress by Sept. 23. “We’ve been really pleased by the quality of the nominations that we’ve gotten,” Mr. Furth said.

Mr. Furth also noted that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has launched an inquiry into whether national wireless service providers are complying with Commission rules that required them to start delivering 911 callers’ vertical location information by April 3 (TR Daily, April 2), but he said he couldn’t comment further. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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LMCC Board Members

Courtesy: TR Daily

The Land Mobile Communications Council today elected members of its board of directors for the 2021- 2022 fiscal year. They are David Smith of the Forest Industries Telecommunications (president), Doug Aiken of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (vice president), Mark Crosby of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (secretary/treasurer), and at-large members Michele Farquhar of the Association of American Railroads, Ralph Haller of the Forestry Conservation Communications Association, and Farokh Latif of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

AT&T Announces Tower-to-Core Encryption

Courtesy: TR Daily

AT&T, Inc., today announced plans to deploy nationwide tower-to-core encryption on the network it is building for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). “FirstNet will be the first-ever nationwide network with this comprehensive network encryption,” it said. “That means FirstNet traffic will be automatically secured as it moves from the cell tower, through the backhaul, to the core and back again. Commercial networks may encrypt parts of the communications pathway, but only FirstNet will have encryption along the entire route. To achieve this, we’re rolling out security upgrades on every cell tower across the country. Houston and Cleveland are the first 2 cities to benefit this month, with nationwide completion expected by Q1 2022.”

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FCC Releases List of Providers Approved for EBBP

 Courtesy: TR Daily

The FCC today released a list, organized by state, district, and territory, of providers that have been accepted to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.  The list can be found at https://www.fcc.gov/ebb-providers-state.  The Commission said it expects additional providers will sign up.  

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Russian Ministry Drafts Amendments to Data Protection Law

Courtesy: TR Daily

Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development has announced that it has drafted proposed amendments to the country’s data protection law, Federal Law of 27 July 2006 No. 152-FZ, requiring telecommunications operators to request the consent of customers prior to selling their personal information.

In a report in the Russian Gazette on Mar. 29 outlining the amendments, the ministry said the amendments were developed in response to a sharp increase in violations of laws related to spam advertising. The amendments will allow telecom operators to transfer anonymized data of Russians to government agencies for specified purposes, but each case related to such sharing will be considered separately, taking into account the future burden on the business of depersonalizing data and preparing the relevant data sets. —Tony Foley, thomas.foley@wolterskluwer.com

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Draft Third NPRM Aims at Harmonizing 911 Outage Reporting Rules

Courtesy: TR Daily

The FCC plans to vote at its April 22 meeting on a draft third notice of proposed rulemaking that would propose harmonizing requirements for reporting network outages that affect 911 service and thus improving public safety.

The 911 outage draft item is one of eight items listed on the tentative agenda for the April 22 meeting released today (see separate stories.)

The NPRM proposes harmonizing “the time-frame, means, and frequency of notification from originating and covered 911 service providers to PSAPs [public safety answering points] about network disruptions. This includes requiring originating service providers to notify, via telephone and in writing through electronic means, potentially affected 911 facilities of an outage no later than 30 minutes of discovering the outage. Also, as additional information becomes available, service providers would be required to communicate such information no later than two hours after the initial notification,” the FCC said in a fact sheet released with the draft NPRM today.

The draft item would also propose standardizing “the type of information conveyed to PSAPs, which includes ‘all available material information,’ such as name of the service provider(s) offering the notification and/or experiencing the outage, date and time when the incident began, communications services affected, and potential impact on PSAPs.”

Finally, it would propose ensuring “that originating and covered 911 service providers maintain accurate PSAP contact information”; establishing “consumer notification procedures for 911 unavailability, such as service providers notifying customers of 911 outages within 60 minutes of determining the outage by providing information on their websites and Internet-related applications.” —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskuwer.com  

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Draft Order Slates End of 800 MHz Rebanding

 

Courtesy: TR Daily

Saying the process that began in 2004 is “essentially complete,” the FCC today released a draft order in WT docket 02-55 that would end a rebanding program that moved Sprint Corp.’s commercial services to the upper portion of the 800 megahertz band and relocated public safety services to the lower end of the band.  

The process which aimed to avoid harmful interference has resulted in more than 2,100 licensees being relocated, the FCC says in the draft order, which it plans to consider at its April 22 meeting.  The draft order would direct the transition administrator to take any actions needed to terminate the program and to cease operations once that is done.  

“Nearly seventeen years after the 800 MHz Report and Order, the 800 MHz band reconfiguration program has achieved its objective — substantially alleviating the interference risk to public safety in the 800 MHz band,” the FCC draft order says. 

T-Mobile US, Inc., which acquired Sprint last year (TR Daily, April 1, 2020), asked the FCC in February to declare the rebanding project complete, and the administrator of the program subsequently submitted documentation asserting the effort was complete, the FCC draft says.  

The order would also grant T-Mobile’s request to terminate the letter of credit the company used to secure its financial obligation to pay for the costs of relocation incurred by public safety and other licensees, as well as its own relocation costs.  

In addition, the order would conclude that outstanding issues related to two 800 MHz licensees — the city of El Paso, Texas, and License Acquisitions LLC — can be addressed outside of the rebanding program, and thus do not pose an obstacle to ending the program.  

The FCC draft says the Commission accepts the administrator’s various certifications related to the completion of the program, as well as the certifications that all of the licensees, other than El Paso and License Acquisitions, have “completed their physical reconsideration activities, relocated to their post-rebanding frequencies and modified their licenses to delete their pre-rebanding frequencies or cancelled their license.” 

The order would also delete rebanding-related rules and approve the disposal of records that are no longer necessary after the termination of the rebanding program.  

The draft item is one of eight items listed on the tentative agenda for the April 22 meeting released today (see separate stories.) —Jeff Williams 

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Bureau Report Details Hurdles Facing 911 Over Wi-Fi

 Courtesy ~ TR Daily

The FCC submitted a report to Congress yesterday saying that while Wi-Fi could be used to expand 911 connectivity options for consumers, public safety answering points (PSAPs), and communications providers in the long term, there are currently limits to the feasibility of doing so.  

Further study of “technical and policy challenges” is needed “before the conditions in the evolving Wi-Fi ecosystem will support reliable provision of 911 services over Wi-Fi access points and spectrum for unlicensed devices,” said the report. 

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau compiled the report after receiving comments in PS docket 20-285 (TR Daily, Oct. 2, 2020) following a public notice issued pursuant to the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018 (TR Daily, March 23, 2018). 

The bureau said recent improvements in the provision of voice and broadband connectivity over Wi-Fi for non-emergency communications could support improved emergency communications, but noted several issues cited by commenters that would need to be resolved first. 

“Existing Wi-Fi and unlicensed infrastructure typically are not engineered to provide the resiliency and reliability needed to support communications in a major emergency and are likely to be affected by many of the same conditions that impair mobile networks in such circumstances (e.g., power outages, physical damage to infrastructure from storms, floods, or wildfires),” the report said. “In addition, opening these platforms to the public for purposes of 911 access would require modifying or disabling authentication protocols and other safeguards, which could result in increased vulnerability.” 

The bureau also said standards to support 911 services using Wi-Fi would need to be developed and adopted before Wi-Fi 911 services would be possible.  

“Such standards are crucial to the development of a cohesive end-to-end system that can support the necessary interactions between mobile devices, cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks, and PSAPs when a 911 call is made,” it said. “Further work is also needed to enable mobile devices to be automatically authenticated, automatically roam across telecommunication service provider and non-telecommunication service provider owned Wi-Fi access points, and be routed to the appropriate PSAP with accurate caller location information.”  

The report also noted some commenters expressed the view there would need to be legal and regulatory changes to address liability, privacy, and security concerns about making Wi-Fi available for 911 use.  

“The record reflects that the complex and competitive nature of today’s communications ecosystem impacts 911 service over Wi-Fi access points and spectrum for unlicensed devices,” the report said.  

In addition, it said, commenters noted that cable operators are prohibited from collecting some personal information about subscribers without prior consent, which could limit their ability to provide location information in an emergency situation to a PSAP. 

The bureau also pointed to concerns that enabling automatic authentication of unknown devices to Wi-Fi access points raises cybersecurity concerns for both network operators and consumers.  

The report said the bureau could not estimate at this time the costs or benefits of providing 911 service over Wi-Fi because of the “significant technical and policy changes” that would have to take place. —Jeff Williams 

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Public Safety Entities Concerned Over FCC’s 911 Fee Diversion NPRM

Courtesy ~ TR Daily

A number of public safety entities have expressed concern about an FCC notice of proposed rulemaking adopted last month that proposes rules to tackle the diversion of 911 fees by states and local jurisdictions for other purposes (TR Daily, Feb. 17).

Public safety groups and state and local entities say some of the FCC’s proposals are vague and are not flexible enough to permit 911 fees to be used for the range of components necessary to deliver 911 services.  They also say that a diversion by a small number of jurisdictions should not risk the eligibility of an entire state for NG-911 grant funds and that the FCC should consider more than just 911 fee diversion and instead the broader question of all underfunding for 911 services. Some public safety entities also expressed concern about heavy-handed federal regulations of state and locality 911 activities.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020, which was enacted in December as part of omnibus appropriations legislation, directed the Commission to adopt rules defining what 911 fee uses by states and jurisdictions constitute diversion (TR Daily, Jan. 4).

The NPRM, which was adopted in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14, proposes to (1) “define the types of 911 fee expenditures by states and jurisdictions that are acceptable under the criteria[] in the new legislation;” (2) “allow states and jurisdictions to petition the Commission for a determination that a 911 fee expenditure not previously designated as acceptable by the Commission could be treated as acceptable;” (3) “prohibit any state or jurisdiction identified by the Commission as a fee diverter from serving on any advisory committee established by the Commission;” and (4) “require any state or jurisdiction that receives a federal 911 grant to provide the Commission with the information it requires to prepare its annual 911 fee report to Congress,” a news release noted.

The legislation also directed the FCC to establish an “interagency strike force,” which will study how the federal government can tackle 911 fee diversion most expeditiously and to report to Congress within 270 days. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau solicited nominations for membership on the strike force.

In its comments, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said it “opposes diversion of 911 fees. However, addressing fee diversion is a complex issue that entails both legal and practical issues. For example, the Commission may need to consider whether Federal rules defining how state funds can be used encompasses any state’s rights issues. The NPRM proposes specific purposes and functions that would be allowable and that would NOT be allowable for the use of 911 fees and charges. From NPSTC’s perspective, the enabling legislation and statutes in each state that address allowable expenditures also would need to be considered. Also, as a practical matter, the way in which the Commission ultimately defines allowable and nonallowable expenditures could certainly impact the ability of a state and its localities to answer and respond to 911 calls for help.

“Also, in adopting rules, it is important to recognize that the priorities and needs may change over time. At its recent meeting, the last one under its current charter, the Communications, Security and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) adopted a working group report that advises the FCC to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the 911 system by, among other things, explicitly allowing 911 fees collected by states and localities to be used for cybersecurity [TR Daily, March 10]. Overall, cybersecurity concerns have grown to be a much higher priority over just the last few years.”

NPSTC added that it “recommends that the foundation of any rules adopted have the underlying goal of assisting jurisdictions to have sufficient resources that enable reliable and modern 911 public safety answering points and associated public safety communications capabilities needed to respond to 911 requests for assistance, to the extent possible. Properly serving the public requires sufficient funding  for the requisite staffing, equipment, capabilities and reliability. Admittedly, this is somewhat broader than fee diversion alone. Simply addressing 911 fee diversion alone does not of itself encourage resource sufficiency for 911 and related public safety communications facilities.”

“The Commission seeks comment on how to effectively gather information on the impact of any underfunding of 9-1-1 services. The law requires the Commission, for submission to the strike force and in future annual reports, to include ‘any information regarding the impact of any underfunding of 9-1-1 services.’ This language demonstrates Congress’s intent to understand how any underfunding, not just underfunding as a result of diversion, is impacting 9-1-1 service across the country,” said the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. “Therefore, to satisfy Congress’s intent, the Commission should take a broad approach to investigating and analyzing the extent to which 9-1-1 is underfunded and the impacts of underfunding on emergency response.”

APCO continued, “Sufficient funding is needed to keep agencies fully staffed and trained, keep equipment and technology up to date and secure, and help public safety telecommunicators best meet the public’s expectations when carrying out their life-saving missions. Using the strike force and annual reports to better understand the relationship between funding for 9-1-1 and emergency response will produce helpful information for public safety agencies and serve the Commission’s and Congress’s goal of discouraging fee diversion while looking at the bigger picture of the extent of underfunding regardless of the source.”

APCO noted that the FCC “seeks comment on its proposed lists of acceptable and not acceptable purposes and functions for the obligation or expenditure of 9-1-1 fees or charges. While important, evaluating whether expenditures fit a particular definition of acceptable purposes and functions and labeling states as diverters if their expenditure was not included in a pre-approved list does not necessarily align with the broader goal of ensuring the adequacy of funding for 9-1-1 … .”

The National Association of State 911 Administrators said that while it opposes the diversion of 911 fees for other purposes, it urged “the Commission to approach its rulemaking and any subsequent consequences to 911 fee diversion in a manner that does not jeopardize the very 911 system it seeks to protect.”

For example, in response to a proposal to clarify that states and taxing jurisdictions are responsible for the diversion of 911 funds by localities that receive fees from states, NASNA said, “In some states, service providers remit fees directly to political subdivisions, such as counties, for 911 use. Due to limits either by their own statutes or constitutions, states have limited authority over the local use of those funds. Additionally, the resources that would be required by states to monitor and enforce adherence would have no visibility over how these funds are spent at the local level. If a state has responsibility for diversion of 911 fees under these rules, the Commission should consider reporting requirements for political subdivisions in states where they do not exist today or at least provide states a transition period to implement such reporting requirements.”

Regarding the NPRM’s proposal for acceptable purposes that 911 fees can be used for, NASNA suggested that it fails to consider broader use of 911 fees by some states. 

“In particular, the NPRM is vague and contradictory on acceptable uses related to communications infrastructure that connects PSAPs (or otherwise ensures the reliable reception and processing of emergency calls and their dispatch to first responders),” the filing said. “NASNA also notes the proposed appears to be vague as to the use of 911 funding to support the high-level administration of a 911 Program such as State 911 Administrative offices, Treasury fund processing, and collection actions for the non-payment of 911 fees.”

NENA reiterated that “the Commission must take care to avoid punishing state 9-1-1 offices for the behaviors of their legislatures or governors’ offices. We suggest further that the Commission avoid punishing these 9-1-1 offices for the actions of local entities over which those states may have no control. The Commission requests comment on including in its definition of diversion ‘distribution of 9-1-1 fees to a political subdivision that obligates or expends such fees for a purpose or function other than those designated by the Commission.’ NENA worries that the administrative burden of local surveillance and potential lack of state-level capacity for diversion enforcement has the potential to add to the already significant burden on state-level 9- 1-1 officials, whose responsibilities are already occupied with the baseline requirements of running a state 9-1-1 program and managing their state’s part in the nationwide transition to NG9-1-1. NENA is also concerned that states may lack the logistical capability to prevent this diversion of funds, especially in a timely manner.”

“The nature of state and local budget cycles means that these taxing jurisdictions often cannot change policy at the drop of a hat; offering timely and clear guidance on exactly what constitutes fee diversion (and whether that has changed recently) is essential to ensure states have a chance to do the right thing,” NENA added.

NENA also said that “it is absolutely essential that if a state is found to be guilty of diversion—especially for the first time, and especially in the midst of federal Next Generation 9-1-1 grant funding—that state be given notice of the Commission’s finding and opportunity to remedy. Lack of notice and remedy could be catastrophic for a state in the midst of a federally subsidized NG9-1-1 transition.”

A joint filing by 15 local and regional 911 authorities from Colorado said, “A small minority of jurisdictions outside of Colorado divert 911 fees, and that should be addressed. Have the ‘strike force’ work on stopping the fee diversion. The ‘strike force’ should not be used to make decisions on behalf of local government. The ‘strike force’ could look at what the states have in place and deem them acceptable, giving the ‘strike force’ more resources to concentrate on the problem and not trying to fix something that is not broken in most states, territories, and local jurisdictions.

“In Colorado, there are processes in place that prevent the state and local governments from diverting 911 fees,” the filing added. “We strongly encourage the FCC to include in proposed rule §9.24 some time limit in which the FCC will respond to petitions for clarification. Because Colorado is a strong local control state, meaning most 911 operations are carried out by local governments and not the State of Colorado, we strongly encourage the FCC to clarify that the rules will not deem the entire State of Colorado and all local 911 entities fee diverters if only a small number of individual 911 entities are found by the FCC to be diverting 911 fees. We also strongly endorse the concept of adding a pathway to compliance into the new rules. This would include the concept of a phase-in period of no less than one year for the new rules to allow states and local governments to come into compliance voluntarily.”

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission said that although “Colorado has never been designated as a diverter of 911 surcharge funds, the ability of state and local jurisdictions to comply with the rules proposed in this NPRM requires clearly defined rules that provide unambiguous guidelines. CoPUC recognizes that Congress has provided the FCC with a short time frame to finalize these rules, but we urge the FCC to ensure that in the rush to meet Congressional deadlines the FCC does not create rules that leave states struggling to interpret these new requirements. We also strongly encourage the FCC to think more about the process by which states or local jurisdiction may come into compliance with FCC rules regarding the use of 911 surcharge funds, since the goal of any rules should be to encourage and ensure compliance.”

Specifically, the FCC’s rules (1) “must provide clearer guidance on what it means by “PSAP operations”; (2) “should be clear that the costs of administering 911 programs, both at the state and local level, are an acceptable expense;” (3) “should also make clear whether emergency notification systems and expenses for 911-related membership organizations are acceptable expenses;” (4) “need to be clearer regarding what radio equipment or infrastructure is allowed and what is not, as the examples provided in the proposed rules are contradictory;” (5) “should provide a timeframe within which petitions for declaratory rulings will be addressed;” and (6) “should make clear that entire states will not be declared in violation of the FCC’s rules for spending decisions made by individual local jurisdictions within those states,” the CoPUC said.

In joint comments, nine local Michigan 911 entities said they “are supportive of the definitions proposed by the Commission regarding ‘911 fee or charge’ as well as the proposed definitional extension to include fees or charges designated for the support of ‘public safety,’ ‘emergency services,’ or similar purposes if the purposes of allowable uses of such fees or charges include the support or implementation of 911 services.[]  However, the definitional limitations proposed in paragraphs 24 through 25 of the NPRM are not acceptable. The limitations fail to recognize the interdependencies of the 911 dispatch system, as well as being inconsistent with prior Commission precedent.” They also urged the FCC to “find that the public safety radio system represents an appropriate use of 911 funding.”

The entities also asked the Commission to “impose mandatory timelines for consideration of a Petition for Determination” and said it agreed with NPSTC “on the need to specifically recognize the use of 911 funds for PSAP cybersecurity expenditures, and the need to closely review the full impact of proposed limitations on diverting state’s ability to participate on advisory committees. While some limitations may be appropriate, such sanctions must be narrow and targeted to resolving the issue, and not punishing and compromising public safety.” 

The Oklahoma 9-1-1 Management Authority said that one of its concerns regarding PSAPs in the state  “is a lack of priorities for 9-1-1 funding and a lack of a strategic technology plan. These two factors play a much more important role than diversion in the State. Oklahoma has a current bill in front of the legislation that will mandate the Authority to create a list of approved expenditures for 9-1-1 fees in the State. However, we will need to take an approach to help local PSAPs understand the technology needs and help prioritize them as well as create an authorized list of expenditures.”

The authority added that it “agrees that oversite is needed and also agrees in Federal standards to ensure 9-1-1 fee diversion does not occur. However, we believe the rules set at the Federal level need to be broad and allow for flexibility within the State and region to narrow the requirements as needed to fit the local need.”

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) expressed support to tackle fee diversion, and said the Commission should consider frameworks used by states and municipalities. It said that “Pennsylvania has developed its legislation, fee rate, and eligibility requirements to meet Pennsylvania’s specific circumstances and needs to support 911 service.”

“PEMA commends the Commission’s approach of suggesting a broad framework of acceptable purposes and functions for the obligation or expenditure of 911 fees. The framework, if defined properly, would provide states and political subdivisions the flexibility to use 911 funds to suit their particular needs and circumstances while staying within the defined framework of acceptable uses and mitigating fee diversion,” the filing said. “However, it is not apparent the proposed rules provide a comprehensive framework of call delivery, processing, and dispatch functions related to PSAP operations or provide flexibility for the adoption of future technologies and capabilities such as NG911. The framework should consider needs of a NG911 environment such as networking, cybersecurity, geospatial information systems, and other NG911 related costs.”

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) said that creating rules for fees or charges other than those designated for 911 services would exceed the FCC’s statutory authority.

“The Commission seeks comment on extending the definition of ‘911 fee or charge’ to include fees or charges designated for the support of ‘public safety,’ ‘emergency services,’ or similar purposes if the purposes or allowable uses of such fees or charges include the support or implementation of 911 services. The Commission should revise its rule to define ‘911 fee or charge’ as those fees or charges specifically designated for the support of 911 services, whereby bringing it into alignment with statute,” it said. 

“The Commission seeks comment on its proposal defining acceptable purposes and functions for ‘multi-purpose’ fees or charges. The Commission should revise its proposal to reflect that multi-purpose fees and charges fall outside the scope of its authority. The Commission should remove accounting rules for multi-purpose fees or charges from its proposed rule,” the filing added.

The DHSES also said that the FCC has failed to meet “its obligation under the statute or the Administrative Procedure Act” to consult with public safety organizations and states. “The notice of proposed rulemaking makes no clear reference to any of the required consultation, thereby preventing input and consideration by the regulated parties. Further, the Commission has not yet reached out to impacted states, including New York, for consultation on this proceeding,” it added.

Several industry entities expressed support for the rulemaking.

“We applaud the Commission for its quick action in implementing the statute and taking further steps to end 911 fee diversion,” NCTA said. “As the Commission has noted, the diversion of fees collected to fund 911 service is a significant and ongoing problem, with more than $1 billion diverted between 2012 and 2018. This misdirection of 911 fees is unacceptable given the reliance people place on the 911 system and the urgent nature of these calls.”

CTIA encouraged the FCC “to further clarify the nature and scope of acceptable obligations or expenditures of 9-1-1 fees on 9-1-1-related services and functions. The Commission should also expand the proposed declaratory ruling process to enable other stakeholders, including communications providers and public safety organizations, to request FCC guidance over whether certain measures constitute 9-1-1 fee diversion. Finally, the FCC should confirm that communications providers’ collection of multipurpose fees identified as a single line item on consumers’ bills does not constitute 9-1-1 fee diversion, so long as the fees are collected into sequestered accounts and providers have the flexibility to disclose the purpose of the combined fees to consumers.”

T-Mobile US, Inc., said it “has long encouraged the Commission to adopt clear guidance defining what constitutes 911 fee diversion. Such comprehensive direction would spell out clear and transparent factors of what does and does not constitute diversion, thereby encouraging states to adopt best practices for spending 911 funds appropriately. Thus, T-Mobile is pleased that the Commission has proposed to adopt a definition of ‘911 fee or charge’ that would establish clear boundaries around what 911 fees may be used for. As the Commission moves forward to adopt a definition, T-Mobile encourages it to seek additional information on the practices of various states, counties, and municipalities to ensure that its definition of ‘fee diversion’ captures all instances where 911 fees are not being used for 911 costs.”

The carrier also encouraged “the Commission to consider and support alternative means of funding 911 services that do not rely on consumer surcharges.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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