Simpson: FCC Staff Working on 9-1-1 Indoor Location Accuracy Options

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is “working expeditiously to pull together options” for Commissioners to consider in its indoor 911 location accuracy proceeding, David Simpson, the bureau’s chief, said today. However, he could not say when action by the Commission was likely.

During a luncheon sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association’s homeland security and emergency communications subcommittee, Mr. Simpson stressed the importance of Americans being able to be located indoors just as they can be outdoors. “We’ve got to take steps to close that gap,” he said.

In February, the FCC proposed 911 indoor location accuracy rules, despite concerns raised by Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly and the wireless industry that the proposed deployment milestones are too aggressive and not feasible given the state of technology (TRDaily, Feb. 20).

Mr. Simpson said in August that he was encouraged by discussions between the wireless industry and public safety on a consensus on indoor location accuracy, but he said the Commission plans to move ahead with rules (TRDaily, Aug. 5).

On another 911 issue today, Mr. Simpson noted that the bureau is standing up a task force to network architecture and other technical issues related to public safety answering points. The FCC directed the task force to study such issues in a text-to-911 order adopted in August (TRDaily, Aug. 8).

He said the task force will not explore the sensitive issue of PSAP consolidation.   “I don’t think that the FCC is in the best position to determine what works best for communities,” he said. “We’ll be focusing on reducing variation in the technical aspects of 911 from PSAPs.”

The FCC’s text-to-911 order concluded “that further examination is needed, in cooperation with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions and their associated PSAPs, on the current structure and architecture of our nation’s PSAPs. The large number of PSAPs, now nearing 6800, potentially increases the costs and resources needed from the communications industry, public safety community, and state, local, and tribal governments. In particular, we are interested in determining whether additional consolidation of PSAP facilities and architecture would promote greater efficiency of operations, safety of life, and cost containment, while retaining needed integration with local first responder dispatch and support. This issue is especially timely as public safety communications systems are converting to NG9-1-1 in the coming years. It is also important because a number of states continue to divert critical E911 funding from its intended purposes to unrelated functions.”

The FCC directed the Public Safety Bureau to establish a task force “that includes representatives from state, local and tribal authorities and the currently constituted CSRIC [Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council] to study and report findings and recommendations on the following issues by April 30, 2015: 1) optimal PSAP system and network configuration in terms of emergency communications efficiency, performance, and operations functionality; 2) cost projections for conversion to and annual operation of PSAPs that incorporate such optimal system design; 3) comparative cost projections for annual maintenance of all existing PSAPs annually and upgrading them to NG911; 4) recommendations on ways to prevent states from diverting E911 funding to other purposes; and 5) whether states that divert E911 funds should be ineligible to participate on various FCC councils, committees, and working groups. These recommendations will provide a benchmark for the Commission, state, local, and tribal authorities, PSAPs and others to compare approaches for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the nation’s current and future 911 system.”

On another 911 issue, Mr. Simpson made clear that the FCC was willing to use its regulatory and enforcement authority to ensure that 911 systems are reliable. He noted a report his bureau issued last week (TRDaily, Oct. 17) that said “sunny day” outages of 911 systems that affect callers throughout an entire state or multiple states have “spiked” this year, including a multi-state outage in April that was caused by a software coding error at an Intrado, Inc., facility.

While the bureau’s report recommended that the FCC direct the CSRIC to develop and implement best practices for the transition to next-generation 911, he acknowledged that earlier recommendations by the CSRIC were not implemented by industry and as a result there were major outages from the derecho storm that struck in 2012. The FCC acted on that failure by adopting network resiliency requirements, Mr. Simpson noted.

Mr. Simpson was also asked about recent remarks by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey calling for a “regulatory or legislative fix” to ensure that providers of communications services are subject to the same obligations to comply with court-order wiretaps (TRDaily, Oct. 16). Mr. Comey said the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is outdated.

Mr. Simpson said he supports an examination of whether CALEA “is appropriately empowered for the new networks, the new technologies that we have in place” as well as whether existing authority is adequate to ensure that when law enforcement intercepts are used, that they are lawful. “We’ll work closely with the FBI throughout,” he added.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily