Courtesy TRDaily: 700 MHz, 4.9 GHz, NSI, Items on Tap Soon at FCC

FCC orders or notices in 700 megahertz band, 4.9 gigahertz band, and non-service-initialized (NSI) phone proceedings are expected to be considered by Commissioners soon, David Furth, deputy chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said at the APCO 2014 show.

During his session, Mr. Furth said the bureau is preparing an order in the agency’s 700 MHz band narrowbanding proceeding and expects to present it to FCC Commissioners “in the near future.” Among other things, the FCC asked questions in the docket about whether it should extend or eliminate the current Dec. 31, 2016 narrowbanding deadline and open the channels up for licensing.

In response to a concern from an audience member at a session on FCC activities about the need for timely action, Mr. Furth said, “This is a very time-sensitive issue for a lot of licensees. Because the 2016 deadline is closer than it looks.”

While the FCC has received several waiver requests concerning the narrowbanding deadline, it would prefer to deal with the issue in a comprehensive fashion, Mr. Furth said.

In the 4.9 GHz band proceeding, Mr. Furth said that the bureau is working on an item with “very specific band plan proposals.” “I expect that that will be forthcoming before the end of the year,” he said.

Mr. Furth also reported that an NPRM is expected to be released soon on possible discontinuation of the agency’s NSI rule. He said the item would ask questions to ensure that consumers who rely on NSI phones to make legitimate 911 calls “have alternatives.” For example, he said that the FCC would seek views on a transition for phasing the rule out, rather than ending it immediately.

In other areas, the bureau is “in the final stages” of a draft order in a proceeding concerning the use of vehicular repeaters by public safety agencies in UHF spectrum, Mr. Furth said.

He also said a draft order should be ready by later in 2014 in response to a Harris Corp. petition concerning the emission mask for operations in 800 MHz band NPSPAC channels.

Mr. Furth also noted that the FCC plans to vote on an order this week to require all wireless carriers and interconnected, over-the-top (OTT) providers to be capable by the end of this year of providing text-to-911 services to requesting public safety answering points (PSAPs). He cited an industry estimate that more than 150 PSAPs are now capable of receiving texts. He called text-to-911 “an important first step” toward the deployment of next-generation 911 (NG-911) networks.

He was asked for his reaction about the fact that PSAPs that can accept texts have not reported getting many.

Mr. Furth said that’s probably good because calling 911, rather than texting, is always preferred. “I don’t see the low volume of texts as a bad news story at all,” he said. That’s why consumer education is important, he said. But he added that “the volume of text-to-911, over time, will increase.”

As for the problems some have dialing 911 directly due to  multi-line telephone systems (MLTS), Mr. Furth said he can’t say what the FCC may do on the issue, but he said that the technology exists to allow direct dialing from places such as office buildings and hotels. “The technology supports that capability,” he said. “It’s a question of whether you implement it.”

He said FCC employees, using the agency’s voice-over-Internet-protocol system, can’t dial 911 directly but that the problem is being addressed.

Regarding 800 MHz band realignment, Mr. Furth cited progress that has been made and said the agency hopes to stick to the early 2016 deadline for licensees on the U.S. border with Mexico.

He also noted that on circulation among Commissioners is a draft order addressing a petition for declaratory ruling filed by Sprint Corp. asking the agency to rule that it is not liable for the anti-windfall payment to the U.S. Treasury because of the amount it has already spent on rebanding (TRDaily, Jan. 24, 2013). Mr. Furth said the agency wants to do what it can to streamline the process for completing the realignment.

Mr. Furth also stressed the importance of cybersecurity to public safety networks, saying that it is “pervasive in everything that we do.”

During a later session, Public Safety Bureau Chief David Simpson said that it is necessary for PSAPs to get ready to accept texts. He said PSAPs have made “real progress” in the past year on that front, but he said more is needed. He said the FCC will help provide tools to PSAPs to get ready.

Mr. Simpson also said the FCC would ensure that the transition to all-Internet protocol networks doesn’t result in any compromise to 911 networks.  He added that the agency would hold carriers accountable for their 911 responsibilities.

He also stressed the importance of strong cyber protections for public safety networks. He noted the recent release of a public notice (TRDaily, July 25) on implementation of several best practices recommended by the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council.

Mr. Simpson said the Commission wants to work with industry “on business-driven cybersecurity risk management” rather than adopting “prescriptive cyber regulations.” However, if that approach doesn’t work, the Commission must be prepared to look at alternatives, he said.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com