RTT, EAS Items on Light Tentative Agenda for FCC’s December 15 Meeting

November 22, 2016–The FCC today released a relatively light tentative agenda consisting of real-time text (RTT) and Emergency Alert System (EAS) items for its Dec. 15 meeting in the wake of a call by congressional Republican leaders for the agency to avoid taking “controversial” actions during the remainder of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s tenure (TRDaily, Nov. 15). However, the tentative agenda said other items already on circulation could be considered at the Dec. 15 meeting if they are not voted on before the meeting.

Earlier this month, Mr. Wheeler pulled nearly all items from the agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting, telling reporters that Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly had asked that he remove all items from the meeting agenda, which had included a controversial business data services (BDS) order – a top priority of Mr. Wheeler (TRDaily, Nov. 16 and 17). Another priority of the Chairman is a set-top box order, which was pulled from the Sept. 29 meeting agenda when Democratic Commissioners could not reach agreement on the item (TRDaily, Sept. 29). That order remains on circulation.

Mr. Wheeler is clearly hoping to get other items through in case they aren’t adopted on circulation before the meeting, in light of the fact that the Dec. 15 meeting is likely be his last, as the January meeting is currently scheduled for Jan. 28 meeting, after the Trump administration takes over.

The tentative agenda’s CG docket 16-145 and GN docket 15-178 report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking on the transition from TTY (text telephone) to RTT technology follow a notice of proposed rulemaking that was adopted by the Commission last spring (TRDaily, April 28) in response to a petition for rulemaking filed by AT&T, Inc., last year (TRDaily, June 12, 2015).

AT&T had asked the FCC to authorize industry-wide substitution of RTT for TTY technology to meet accessibility requirements on IP (Internet protocol)-based wireless networks. In the meantime, the FCC has granted requests to AT&T, Verizon Communications, Inc., Cellular South, Inc., and the Competitive Carriers Association on behalf of its members for waivers of the agency’s requirement to support TTY use to the extent that carriers use IP technologies, conditioned on commitments to develop RTT services on their wireless IP networks.

In the NPRM released last spring, the FCC proposed requiring Tier I wireless carriers, which are the four national carriers, to implement RTT technology by Dec. 31, 2017. It sought comment on a deadline for non-Tier I carriers. “We propose that the timeline established for RTT support over IP-based wireless services apply as well to handsets and other text-capable end user devices for use with such services, and thus propose that any such handsets or devices sold after December 31, 2017, have RTT capability,” the NPRM said.

Industry commenters called for more flexibility and a longer transition in the deployment schedule, while groups representing the deaf and hard of hearing supported the proposed deadline, suggesting a June 30, 2018, deadline for non-Tier I carriers (TRDaily, July 12).

The National Association of the Deaf, the American Foundation for the Blind, and a number of groups representing people with disabilities recently urged the FCC not to delay action on items of interest to their community, including RTT service and the video description item that Chairman Wheeler removed from the agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting after Republican leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees asked the Chairman not to move on controversial actions during the transition to a new presidential administration.

“Real-time text allows text to be sent immediately as it is being created, enabling communications to flow back and forth in the same manner as voice communications,” Mr. Wheeler noted in a blog posting today. “It also permits people with hearing and speech disabilities to use off-the-shelf devices. Rather than pay for special equipment that may be hard to find and not as effective, they will, for the first time, be able to use the same phones as everyone else. The proposed Order would replace our rules requiring TTY support with rules defining the obligations of these wireless entities to support real-time text over IP-based services.”

“We are encouraged that, after sending our letter last week and meeting with the five Commissioners’ offices yesterday to make our case for the FCC to move on the remaining accessibility items, real-time text is on the agenda,” Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program told TRDaily today. “This represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build accessibility into telecommunications systems from the ground up, in a way that benefits consumers, industry, and government agencies, and must be seized now. We also trust that this signals the FCC moving in the direction of acting on the other remaining accessibility items.”

In the EAS item, the FCC plans to consider a report and order and further notice in PS docket 15-94 to enhance the EAS. “The Report and Order improves alerting organization at the state and local levels, builds stronger community-based alerting exercise programs, and protects the EAS against accidental misuse and malicious intrusion,” according to the tentative agenda. “The Further Notice seeks comment on proposals to leverage technological advances to improve alerting and additional measures to preserve EAS security.”

The EAS order follows up on an NPRM adopted in January seeking views on ways to improve the system (TRDaily, Jan. 28).  The NPRM sought views in part on recommendations made by the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council concerning state plans and security (TRDaily, March 20, 2014).

A variety of parties weighed in on the NPRM, with several key industry players criticizing a number of the proposals (TRDaily, June 9). The tentative agenda said the following items may be considered at the meeting if they are not voted on earlier on circulation: a draft NGO (non-geostationary-satellite orbit) FSS (fixed-satellite service) NPRM; an item concerning the FCC’s part 0 rules regarding public information, inspection of records, and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act; an order on reconsideration and a memorandum opinion and order that would grant assignment of spectrum from Maritime Communications/Land Mobile LLC (MCLM) to a new entity that could then make it available to requesting railroad and critical infrastructure industry (CII) companies; an order that would close a proceeding in which the FCC had proposed to require wireless carriers to release cell-site outage information during and after disasters; and a memorandum opinion and order concerning Preferred Long Distance, Inc.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com, and Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com