Wireless Industry, Pallone Announce Voluntary Network Resiliency Framework

The wireless industry and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today announced that the industry has agreed to a voluntary framework to improve wireless network resiliency before, during, and after disasters and other emergencies.

The Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework is the latest example of the wireless industry agreeing to voluntary actions or standards when faced with regulations or legislative mandates.

A news release on the framework said it was the result of five months of discussions among Mr. Pallone, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and CTIA. The discussions began after Mr. Pallone introduced legislation (HR 3998) to bolster communications networks during emergencies (TRDaily, Nov. 16, 2015).

“This agreement will save lives during major emergencies like Superstorm Sandy,” said Mr. Pallone.  “I commend CTIA and the FCC for working with me to craft a comprehensive agreement that ensures consumers have access to wireless service during an emergency even if their wireless network goes down.”

“I am pleased that CTIA and the wireless providers created a set of common-sense solutions to improve coordination and network recovery during disasters and emergencies. This Framework will benefit consumers and help limit the impact of future disasters, while avoiding unworkable and unnecessary mandates,” said CTIA President and Chief Executive Officer Meredith Attwell Baker.

“For millions of Americans, mobile devices have become the primary way to communicate. Consumers need confidence that wireless networks will be there when they need them the most,” said Mr. Wheeler. “I applaud Rep. Frank Pallone for keeping the spotlight on this issue and the wireless industry for stepping up for the needs of their customers by proposing voluntary solutions aimed at improving reliability when natural disasters and other emergencies strike.”

Mr. Pallone introduced the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters (SANDy) Act due to communications problems after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The FCC said that data reported by carriers after Sandy showed that about one-quarter of all cell sites in the 10-state affected area were knocked out by the storm, “with more than 50 percent of cell sites disabled in the hardest-hit counties.

As drafted, the SANDy Act would require the FCC to launch a proceeding to set roaming rules “at reasonable rates during times of emergency and if the outage is longer than 24 hours.” The FCC also would have to launch a proceeding “on the provision of roaming agreements between mobile services at no charge for all communications during times of emergency to or from 911 services.”

The FCC also would have to “create a master point of contact directory” to make it easier for carriers and public safety answering points (PSAPs) to communicate. As a result of the voluntary agreement announced today, the SANDy Act will be amended to “remove the wireless provisions from the bill,” according to Andrew Souvall, a spokesman for the congressman. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark the measure up tomorrow.

The framework announced today was agreed to by CTIA, AT&T, Inc., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US, Inc., Verizon Communications, Inc., and United States Cellular Corp.

An ex parte filing with the FCC today in PS dockets 13-239 and 11-60 said the framework involves “(1) Providing for reasonable roaming under disasters arrangements when technically feasible; (2) Fostering mutual aid during emergencies; (3) Enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration; (4) Increasing consumer readiness and preparation; and (5) Improving public awareness.”

The filing said that the “voluntary initiative that will enhance coordination and communication to advance wireless service continuity and information sharing during and after emergencies and disasters. Importantly, the Framework includes an effort to improve consumer education that will enable consumers to be better prepared for future disasters, and that the enhanced industry collaboration will facilitate greater network resiliency and faster restoration of service and these commitments obviate the need for legislative action or inflexible rules that could have unintended consequences.”

The filing added, “As a first order of business, during an emergency or disaster, a wireless provider should focus its continuity and restoration plans and resources on its own networks, services, and subscribers. But wireless continuity requires the active involvement of multiple parties – not only wireless carriers, but wireline carriers, government agencies at all levels, PSAPs, and consumers. The Framework will do much to advance these efforts. The Framework also will permit carriers sufficient flexibility to tailor network resiliency and continuity of service plans to the unique needs of individual localities given that the types of disasters and emergencies that could impact networks and services can vary greatly depending on geographic location.

The filing elaborated on the commitments that the industry is making. Regarding roaming, it said “carriers commit to working with other wireless carriers to implement reasonable roaming arrangements for the duration of an event if existing roaming arrangements and call processing methods do not already achieve it. RuDs [roaming under disasters] would apply when the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) activates Emergency Support Function # 2 (ESF-2) for a given emergency or disaster and the FCC activates the electronic Disaster Information Response System (DIRS), where: (i) a requesting carrier’s network has become inoperable and the requesting carrier has taken all appropriate steps to attempt to restore its own network, and (ii) the home carrier has determined that roaming is technically feasible and will not adversely affect service to the home carrier’s own subscribers. Such arrangements will be limited in duration and contingent on the requesting carrier taking all possible steps to restore service on its own network as quickly as possible.”

As for mutual aid, the filing said, “Wireless carriers commit to the sharing of physical assets and necessary consultation where feasible during and after disasters through establishing mutual aid arrangements with other wireless carriers. As noted above, carriers should first manage their own network needs during an emergency, and then provide aid to others, if requested. Mutual aid arrangements may be triggered when the NRCC activates ESF-2 for a given emergency or disaster and the FCC activates the electronic DIRS.”

As for enhancing local governments’ preparedness and service restoration, it said, “By June 1, 2016 (the first day of hurricane season), wireless carriers will convene with a select number of local government representatives’ public safety subject matter experts to develop best practices to facilitate coordination before, during, and after emergencies and disasters in order to maintain and restore wireless service continuity.”

“Wireless carriers will provide relevant up-to-date contact information for a carrier/PSAP contact database, subject to an agreement by all participating entities that such data be kept confidential,” the filing said, describing efforts to improve public safety readiness and preparation. “State Emergency Operations Center (‘State EOC’) representatives will then be able to address inquiries to the appropriate carrier point of contact. When the NRCC activates ESF-2 and the FCC activates the electronic DIRS for a given emergency or disaster, State EOC inquiries will promptly be relayed to the carrier’s designated representative.”

To increase consumer readiness, “carriers commit to conducting consumer education designed to ensure consumers are properly prepared for emergencies and disasters,” the filing said. “In particular, CTIA will work with consumer focused groups to develop a Consumer Readiness Checklist and outreach strategies to disseminate it. These outreach tools will include public service announcements, informational pamphlets, and social media ranging from YouTube videos to Tweets and other effective ways to improve consumer preparedness for disasters and other emergencies.”

“When the NRCC activates ESF-2 and the FCC activates the electronic DIRS for a given emergency or disaster, wireless carriers will support the FCC making DIRS data regarding the total number of cell sites out of service (calculated consistent with established DIRS practices) publicly available on its website on an industry-aggregated, county-by-county basis for any geographic area defined in a DIRS activation notice,” the industry added in the filing.

“As this aggregate data represents a snapshot in time, for each county entry, the Commission notice should identify the time the most recent data was submitted, and promptly revise the data it publishes whenever it receives updated information from a carrier,” the filing added. “These actions will ensure that the public has the most up-to-date information and will enhance coordination between the wireless industry and relevant stakeholders.”

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said it was pleased by the voluntary agreement.

“When introduced by Congressman Pallone, APCO commended the SANDy Act, as it would be helpful to 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) facing large-scale disasters, and would generally lead to improvements in emergency communications. We thus applaud the announcement today of the ‘Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework’ reached among the nation’s major wireless carriers, Congressman Pallone, and FCC Chairman Wheeler,” said APCO Executive Director Derek Poarch. “By implementing many of the provisions of the SANDy Act applicable to wireless service providers, and consistent with APCO’s public comments with the FCC, the Framework will benefit PSAPs across the country by improving public safety awareness regarding service and restoration status, and providing access to up-to-date contact information.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily