New York City: Regulations Needed to Ensure Wireless Network Resilience

June 1, 2016–The FCC has received mixed views on a voluntary framework signed by the largest wireless carriers to improve wireless network resiliency before, during, and after disasters and other emergencies, with New York City and the New America Foundation questioning the effectiveness of self-regulation but the Competitive Carriers Association committing to some of the framework’s principles. Comments were filed by yesterday’s deadline in PS dockets 13-239 and 11-60 in response to the voluntary framework, which was announced in April by the wireless industry and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (TRDaily, April 27).

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). The congressman agreed to remove wireless provisions from his bill once the framework was hammered out.

The framework 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 noted that 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.”

In its comments, the city of New York said that while it “appreciates the efforts of the wireless industry to voluntarily regulate and police itself, the City rejects the viability of self-regulation in this critical area. The City’s concerns are in regard to the sustainability, enforceability and reliability of self-regulation. Due to a customer’s dependency on critical services provided by the wireless industry and because of past failures of attempts at self-regulation, the City believes that competitive forces are not sufficient to ensure a reliable network. For example, the 2012 ‘Derecho’ outage revealed a lack of compliance with self-regulation promises by wireline carriers regarding their failure to implement crucial best practices that could have mitigated or prevented the storm’s adverse impacts on communications networks, including 911 service outages. These and other practices rendered invalid any claims of resiliency during the self-regulation period prior to Hurricane Sandy.

“Also, investigations by the City of New York after Hurricane Sandy revealed an over-reliance on common backhaul infrastructure by the wireless community,” the filing added. “It is critical that wireless carriers enhance network designs and have a full set of resiliency measures in place for the protection of City/governmental customers and New York City consumers. We are skeptical that this will happen reliably on a voluntary basis. As such, the City remains wary of the wireless industry’s promises without regulatory authority to hold wireless carriers accountable.”

More specifically, the city expressed concern that the threshold for providing roaming and mutual aid – when the National Response Coordination Center activates Emergency Support Function #2 and the FCC activates its Disaster Information Response System – was too low. “The threshold should be lowered to reflect local and state emergency declarations or requests and should extend to state or local emergencies and disasters in situations where DIRS may or may not also be activated,” the city argued.

It also said that the FCC should require that outage-related information be provided to consumers during disruptions and when consumers are purchasing telecom services. It also said that county-level outage data was not granular enough and that Census tract data should instead be provided. The FCC also should “require the wireless industry to proactively report geo-specific (down to the tower level) outage data in near-real time on a regular and on-going basis,” the city said.

The New America Foundation’s Resilient Communities Program said that it “applauds CTIA et al for their interest in supporting network resilience. However, we do not believe that voluntary steps taken by industry to shore up network resilience should obviate the need for legislative action – in particular, enforceable data-sharing standards. A cooperative agreement forged solely among industry representatives leaves out leadership by those most informed about local needs and experiences: local groups on the front lines in flood zones, as well as emergency response personnel and government officials.”

NAF added that it is “concerned that participation and compliance with CTIA et al’s proposed ‘Framework’ is voluntary – meaning that if a carrier prefers to withdraw or not comply with parts of it, there are no consequences. We have passed the point where access to communications in a disaster situation is optional.”

The group agreed with New York City that outage information should be as near to real-time as possible.

But the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said the voluntary framework “can lead to great improvements to wireless network resiliency, restoration, and overall preparedness and response, in disaster situations. 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. Indeed, we hope this Framework can serve as a model for non-nationwide carriers to follow as well.”

APCO added, “While the Framework specifically references the ability of State EOCs to access carrier points of contact, the contact list must also be sent to PSAPs for use during disasters. During disasters, EOCs may or may not be activated, but PSAPs are always operational. Further, the contact list must be sent to PSAPs for use during other times, in the event of any wireless outages impacting origination or 9-1-1 networks, whether large-scale or localized, and including disaster-related and ‘sunny day’ outages.” APCO also said that public safety answering points should be “among the public safety subject matter experts included in the meetings contemplated by the Framework.”

CCA said it supported several of the principles in the voluntary framework. CCA’s members include Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular as well as smaller carriers. “CCA members are committed to ensuring network continuity and resiliency, especially during emergencies and disasters,” the group said. “Once each carrier has assessed the security of its own network, and after it determines it can accomplish the principles set out in the Framework, that carrier will commit to entering into reasonable roaming arrangements, to providing mutual aid, and improving consumer and public safety awareness of network status and restoration efforts.”

However, CCA said in a footnote that “there may be some carriers who may not commit, for various reasons, to the principles outlined herein.”

In joint comments, the Rural Wireless Association and NTCA said that they “support the notion of network resiliency, but are concerned that a lack of functional bilateral roaming agreements between the Big Four and rural wireless carriers could hinder such resiliency in the event of an emergency. To address this issue and permit the proposed initiative to achieve its desired effect across all users and across the country, the Associations recommend that the Commission require that: (1) carriers negotiate bilateral roaming agreements containing bilateral roaming terms and conditions that apply in the event of an emergency; (2) carriers conduct bilateral testing; (3) any roaming restrictions imposed after bi-lateral testing is completed be capable of being lifted within a two-hour window in order to gain access to the serving carrier’s network.”

The Wireless Infrastructure Association (previously PCIA) said that it “believes the Framework’s consensus-based approach will help ensure continuity of service for our nation’s wireless networks during times of emergency. The cooperative steps outlined in the Framework’s five prongs will increase information sharing among industry and enhance consumer understanding. WIA also encourages actions to educate local governments on the effects of facility siting rules and approval processes on network resiliency; in particular, damaging interpretations of objective building code standards that could impede network resiliency.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily