FCC Order Would Require Carriers, OTT Providers to Deploy Text-to-911, Courtesy TRDaily

A draft second report and order circulated today for the FCC’s Aug. 8 meeting would require all wireless carriers and interconnected, over-the-top (OTT) texting providers by year-end to be capable of deploying text-to-911 services, an FCC official told TRDaily. Providers would have to provide text-to-911 offerings within six months of a valid public safety answering point (PSAP) request.

The order, included on the Aug. 8 tentative meeting agenda released today, follows up on a policy statement and second further notice of proposed rulemaking adopted in January (TRDaily, Jan. 30) in PS dockets 11-153 and 10-255. The statement and second further notice sought to press smaller wireless carriers and interconnected OTT texting providers to become capable of deploying text-to-911 services by the end of this year.

In an agreement between public safety groups and the four national wireless carriers, those providers met a May 15 deadline for being capable of deploying text-to-911 services to PSAPs. The draft order would codify that accord.

In a companion third further notice of proposed rulemaking also circulated today, the FCC also plans to solicit comments “on potential improvements to current text-to-911 technology, such as through better location information,” according to the tentative agenda.

The second further notice explored a number of longer-term issues, including applying Phase II location accuracy voice call mandates to texts and roaming.  The FCC official told TRDaily that the third further notice includes specific proposals concerning long-term issues with proposed timelines.

In response to the second further notice and policy statement, larger carriers said that the FCC should avoid codifying their voluntary agreement, while smaller providers disagreed about whether they can deploy those offerings by the end of this year (TRDaily, April 7).  Some OTT entities argued that the capability proposed by the FCC exceeded its authority or was technically infeasible—at least in some cases. For their part, public safety groups generally favored the imposition of FCC rules codifying any deadlines agreed to voluntarily by carriers.

In a blog posting today, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that it’s time for the Commission to act.

“The fact is our 911 system has struggled to keep pace with new technology,” he said. “Witness the long-standing inability to text to 911. We’ve made significant progress on this issue this year. Consistent with a Policy Statement unanimously adopted by the Commission in January 2014 the four major wireless carriers, which serve 95 percent of U.S. customers now support text-to-911. More than 100 emergency call centers in 17 states now support text-to-911, and others have initiated plans to come online.  I commend the four nationwide wireless carriers for following through on their commitment, and while I’m pleased to see that PSAPs are beginning to respond there remains more to be done.

“Other than the four major wireless carriers, no other providers of text services have offered voluntary commitments to implement text-to-911. On the PSAP side, despite recent progress, the majority still do not support text-to-911,” said Mr. Wheeler, who was critical of PSAP readiness when the FCC adopted its second further notice and policy statement.

“When you consider how Americans increasingly rely on text as a primary means of communication, and the approximately 7.5 million Americans with speech disabilities who are even more reliant on text, these shortcomings are unacceptable,” Mr. Wheeler stressed. “I’ve often spoken about the regulatory see-saw: if industry acts in the public interest, FCC involvement will be low, but if the public interest is not being served, the Commission will not hesitate to act. In the case of text-to-911, it is time for the Commission to act.”

The public safety community praised the FCC’s plan to adopt text-to-911 rules.

“NENA is pleased that the Commission will issue an Order to ensure that all consumers have network support for Text-to-9-1-1, and we are convinced that having this comprehensive framework in place will help to drive local adoption of Text-to-9-1-1,” said Trey Forgety, director-government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association.

He told TRDaily that there had been “productive discussions” some months ago with smaller wireless carriers on reaching a voluntary text-to-911 agreement but that the talks had not resulted in an accord. NENA has not had discussions with OTT texting providers on an agreement, said NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes.

“We applaud the Commission for moving forward on this important item and look forward to reviewing the order and further notice after it is adopted,” said Gigi Smith, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

Also at the Aug. 8 meeting, which is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m., the FCC is tentatively scheduled to consider a report and order “to streamline and update the rules governing the construction, marking, and lighting of antenna structures,” according to the tentative agenda.  “These updates will improve efficiency, reduce regulatory burdens, and enhance compliance with tower painting and lighting requirements, while continuing to ensure the safety of pilots and aircraft passengers nationwide.”

“This is one piece in our ongoing work to make the regulatory approval process for wireless infrastructure more efficient and effective,” Mr. Wheeler said in his blog posting. “Our efforts will enable the companies that deploy wireless networks to build out quickly without unnecessary burdens and, as a result, benefit American consumers by meeting their demand for more and more wireless service.  At the same time, we are committed to preserving safeguards that prevent deleterious impacts on historical, environmental, and local interests.

“The Report and Order would also make common-sense updates to our rules,” the Chairman added. “For instance, it would change our rules to allow antenna structure owners to report lighting outages by any means acceptable to the FAA, rather than by ‘telephone or telegraph.’”

In 2010, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in WT docket 10-88 that suggested a number of revisions to its part 17 rules (TRDaily, April 20, 2010), addressing a petition for rulemaking filed by PCIA in 2006.

In a statement today, PCIA said that it “applauds the Commission for embracing our recommendations on improving air navigation safety. Since 2006, PCIA has demonstrated how technological advances in the wireless infrastructure industry are strengthening air navigation safety and has encouraged the FCC to revise outdated regulations in Part 17. The FCC’s forthcoming Order will encourage the adoption of advanced technologies by streamlining regulatory requirements and removing unnecessary rules. We eagerly anticipate the FCC’s common-sense updates that will bring Part 17 into the 21st century.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com