Illinois Didn’t Divert 911 Funds in 2016

Illinois didn’t divert any 911 funds for other purposes in 2016, the state’s 911 administrator told FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in a letter today. Statewide 911 Administrator Cindy Barbera-Brelle said in the letter that funds that she had indicated were diverted in 2016 were actually diverted in 2015. A total of $7.5 million was diverted in 2015. She told Mr. O’Rielly that since the 911 program was moved from the Illinois Commerce Commission to the Illinois State Police effective Jan. 1, 2016, no 911 funds have been diverted for other purposes. In an FCC report released in February, Illinois was listed as one of six states that diverted funds for other purposes in 2016 (TR Daily, Feb. 7). This year’s report was the ninth, and it noted that Illinois has been identified as a fee diverter in every report. – Courtesy TR Daily

NIST Researchers Working on Virtual Reality to Train First Responders

National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers are hoping “to make virtual reality simulations more of a reality for first responders, enabling firefighters, law enforcement officers and others to learn and practice how to best operate and communicate in emergencies,” according to a news release issued today. “NIST staff are developing virtual environments featuring scenarios such as firefighting in hotels. The goal is to spur industry to come up with user interfaces — visual indicators, sounds, voice commands — that are better, cheaper, proven effective and brought to market faster than otherwise would be possible. Such interfaces could be embedded in firefighters’ masks or smart glasses worn by emergency medical technicians, for example. A visual display might show the temperature or audio might warn that oxygen is low in a backpack tank. The idea is to present helpful data in an intuitive and nonintrusive manner.” “There is currently no method to test and measure user interfaces for first responders,” said NIST project leader Scott Ledgerwood. “We want to enable development, testing and rapid prototyping of these interfaces in a safe, controlled and repeatable environment.” – Courtesy TR Daily

CRS Report Outlines FirstNet Challenges

A new Congressional Research Service report outlines various challenges facing the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and AT&T, Inc., its network partner, and highlights issues that members of Congress might want to follow as they continue exercising oversight of the nationwide public safety broadband network.

While all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia agreed to allow AT&T build their FirstNet radio access networks (RAN), “challenges remain,” noted the CRS report, which was written by telecommunications policy analyst Jill Gallagher. “While governors allowed FirstNet/AT&T to deploy the network in their states, there is no requirement for state and local public safety agencies to use the network. FirstNet/AT&T must attract users to the network to ensure the network is self-sustaining, as required under the act. FirstNet set adoption targets and steep penalties that AT&T must pay if targets are not met. AT&T has offered specialized features and services (e.g., priority access to the network, support during disasters) to attract users to the network. However, Verizon has offered similar services to entice users to its network which may affect FirstNet/AT&T’s enrollment efforts.

 “There are other factors affecting enrollment,” the report added. “Some public safety agencies have expressed reluctance to join the FirstNet network, citing uncertainties with the resiliency, reliability, and security of the network, coverage, and cost. Other agencies have expressed an unwillingness to join until FirstNet can provide mission critical voice features — essential features that responders have on their radios and use during emergencies — that will not be available from FirstNet until 2019. Attracting users to the network will be challenging for FirstNet/AT&T, but necessary to meet the requirements in the law and achieve the intent of the act.”

 The report continued, “Congress may continue its oversight of FirstNet to ensure the FirstNet network is meeting public safety needs (e.g., security, reliability, and resiliency), requirements in the law are met, and the network is deployed as intended. Congress may monitor subscribership to ensure the network will be self-sustaining, as required in the act, and that the intent of the law is achieved.”

 Among other specific issues for Congress to be aware of are the lack of transparency of FirstNet’s 25-year contract with AT&T and the lack of core-to-core interoperability, the report suggested. — Courtesy TR Daily 

Public Safety Renews Concerns About ‘Dispatchable Location’ Definition

The public safety community today reiterated concern about how it says the wireless industry is interpreting “dispatchable location” in implementing 911 location accuracy rules that the FCC adopted in 2015 (TR Daily, Jan. 29, 2015), and it asked the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to clarify the definition.

“We are writing today with an ongoing concern about how the wireless industry is interpreting ‘dispatchable location’ for 9-1-1 location accuracy purposes, within the framework of the FCC’s Fourth Report and Order,” the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said in a letter in PS docket 07-114 to Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the Public Safety Bureau. “As defined by the Commission, dispatchable location means ‘the verified or corroborated street address of the calling party plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar information that may be needed to adequately identify the location of the calling party.’  With this information in hand, 9-1-1 professionals can help direct field responders to the scene of the emergency and enable them to provide life-saving assistance more quickly.

“Under the FCC’s rules, wireless carriers must provide a dispatchable location or a horizontal fix in the x,y plane within 50 meters for increasing percentages of all wireless 9-11 calls.  Therefore, a carrier seeking to comply with these benchmarks by providing a dispatchable location may only do so if the location it provides to PSAPs meets the FCC’s definition of dispatchable location,” the filing added. “For example, if a Wi-Fi access point is located across the street in a different building, carriers may not describe the physical address of this access point as being the ‘dispatchable location’ of the calling party.  Any related definitions resulting from the industry’s standards development activities such as through ATIS cannot be used to depart from the FCC’s definition of dispatchable location for regulatory compliance purposes.  Consistent with the Order, to be counted towards compliance, a location fix described by a carrier as a ‘dispatchable location’ must be ‘which door to open’ when assistance is required and nothing less.

“We understand that the Bureau has indicated agreement in the past that for compliance purposes, carriers must abide by the FCC’s definition of dispatchable location,” the public safety federation added. “As implementation of the Order continues, we respectfully request the Bureau to provide a formal response reemphasizing the definition of dispatchable location, to ensure that all carriers subject to this requirement understand and comply with the meaning and intent of this critical element of the Order.”

Last year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials, and the National Sheriffs’ Association expressed concern about the industry’s interpretation of “dispatchable location” (TR Daily, Feb. 22 and April 28, 2017). — Courtesy TR Daily 

O’Rielly Votes for Puerto Rico Aid After Getting 911 Assurance

Puerto Rico will not divert future 911 fees for other purposes, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in a letter dated Wednesday. As a result of the assurance, Mr. O’Rielly has voted for an item to allocate $750 million in universal service funding to support the restoration and expansion of communications networks in Puerto Rico.

Gov. Rosselló replied to a letter that Mr. O’Rielly sent last month criticizing Puerto Rico’s diversion of 911 funds in the past and suggesting he would oppose additional universal service funding to the island if it doesn’t end the diversion practice (TR Daily, April 24).

Mr. O’Rielly’s letter responded to a March 7 letter from Gov. Rosselló that responded to a Feb. 20 letter that Mr. O’Rielly sent the governors of Puerto Rico, New York, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam asking why they did not submit requested information to the FCC for its latest annual report on 911 fund diversions (TR Daily, Feb. 20).

In his March 7 letter, Gov. Rosselló said that in 2016, the year covered by the most recent FCC 911 diversion report, former Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla diverted $243,100 in 911 fees “under the legal authority conferred” by a law that “established that all savings in areas such as 9-1-1 fees must be transferred to the Workforce and Economic Development Promotion Fund under the Trade and Export Company of Puerto Rico.”

In his Wednesday letter to Mr. O’Rielly, the governor said that his administration reported the fee diversion that occurred during the previous administration and “requested an audit of 9-1-1 operations in Puerto Rico.”

“You also questioned whether such diversions will occur in the future. To be clear, we will not allow any utilization of 9-1-1 funds for purposes other than those authorized under applicable laws, rules, and regulations,” he added. “To that effect, we have also initiated steps to submit amendments to the current state law that led to said diversion of funds, and we will be withholding future payments to the Treasury Department.

“I trust that my assurances in this matter will put to rest this issue and that Puerto Rico will be a recipient of funding currently under consideration, aimed at rebuilding Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure,” Gov. Rosselló  added.

In response to the letter, a spokeswoman for Mr. O’Rielly said today, “Commissioner O’Rielly is satisfied with this response and has voted to approve the item.”

The proposal circulated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in March (TR Daily, March 6) would also provide $204 million in support for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The item is an order and notice of proposed rulemaking. — Courtesy TR Daily 

Judge Denies Early Appeal Request in FirstNet FoIA Lawsuit

A U.S. District judge in Vermont has denied a motion by plaintiffs in a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) lawsuit seeking First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) records to file an interlocutory appeal of the judge’s decision to dismiss or grant summary judgment in favor of the government on all but one of 18 counts.

The suit (“Stephen Whitaker and David Gram v. Department of Commerce,” case 5:17-cv-192) was filed last year by Stephen Whitaker, a Vermont resident and government accountability advocate, and David Gram, a reporter for “VTDigger,” a non-profit web-based publication (TR Daily, Oct. 6, 2017).

Last December, Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford ruled that FirstNet was exempt from FoIA under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which created FirstNet (TR Daily, Jan. 2). He rejected 17 of the 18 counts in the suit.

 On the last count, Judge Crawford reserved making a decision on summary judgment pending a supplemental briefing. The count “requests injunctive relief prohibiting FirstNet from collecting personally identifiable information until proper privacy impact assessments are complete,” the judge noted in his decision.

 In an April 26 decision denying the plaintiffs’ motion for certification of interlocutory appeal, Judge Crawford wrote, “Certification for interlocutory appeal is appropriate when a district court’s decision involves a controlling question of law on which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and immediate appeal may materially advance the termination of the litigation. … The court is satisfied that immediate appeal of its decision on Counts 1-17 will not materially advance the termination of the litigation. The pending disposition of Count 18, which involves the application of a statutory provision that has never been interpreted by the Second Circuit, is practically certain to give rise to another appealable issue. The piecemeal appellate review requested by the Plaintiffs will only prolong this litigation. Because this is an independently sufficient basis for the court’s conclusion that interlocutory appeal is not appropriate, the court does not consider whether its prior decision involved controlling questions of law or whether there is substantial ground for difference of opinion on those questions.”

Judge Crawford also granted the defendant’s motion to file a reply brief, which it has already filed, to the plaintiffs’ supplemental brief regarding the remaining count, saying that the plaintiffs’ brief “attempted to raise a new issue as to whether the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network was operational, a matter of fact that had until then been undisputed.” He also said the plaintiffs could file a surreply within 14 days of his decision.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC Reaches Settlements Over LED Signs

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reached consent decrees with two companies to resolve investigations into whether they marketed LED signs used in digital billboards and other commercial and industrial applications without the required FCC equipment authorization, labeling, and disclosures in violation of agency rules. In a consent decree in file no. EB-SED-17-00024598, Optec Displays, Inc., agreed to pay $54,000, while in a consent decree in file no. EB-SED-17-00024600, Tradenet Enterprise Inc. (d/b/a Vantage LED) agreed to pay $15,000. Courtesy – TRDaily

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, May 3, 2018

Is LMR Old and Out of Date? LTE the Future? For the past few weeks I have been talking with folks in D.C., states, and locally about FirstNet and if and when it will replace Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. I have found that among those not directly involved with public safety and do not have much, if any, technical background, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding LMR, FirstNet, and the limited amount of spectrum available to us.

These issues include but are not limited to the perception that LTE and 5G represents the only wireless future and land mobile radio is an antiquated technology that is no longer needed. Further, they believe all spectrum regardless of where it is located in the radio spectrum continuum is worth a fortune and therefore should be converted to broadband spectrum as soon as possible so it can be auctioned. It is interesting that these are the same issues the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and Public Safety Alliance (PSA) faced when they were first engaging with those in the federal government to convince elected officials that public safety needed more broadband spectrum but needed to keep its LMR spectrum as well.

It took a while but public safety gained the support of the governors’ and mayors’ associations. However, when FirstNet was passed, Congress required a give-back of the T-Band spectrum. Part of the reason for this was the belief that the spectrum in these eleven major markets, once vacated by public safety (Congress forgot about business users also authorized in the T-Band), would be worth $billions of dollars and that funding could be used to relocate the T-Band public safety users and pay off a portion of the U.S. debt. However, it has not turned out that way. Now there is a bill in Congress to forgive the T-Band give-back but so far it has not progressed as quickly as we would have liked.

All of the above has convinced me that many of the staffers and those who served in Congress during the years preceding the law that created FirstNet in 2012 have left Congress or are not in the same committees they were. The new guard, as it were, grew up with cell phones. That is all they know, I don’t think any of them have been exposed to handheld radios with push-to-talk-only capabilities, even Family Service Radios (FSRs) that can be purchased for less than $20 in most stores. Nor do I think many, if any, have asked for a ride-along with police or sheriff personnel. Instead, they believe their smartphone can do anything and everything needed by public safety. And when they have a dropped call or cannot access the network it is an inconvenience and they complain, but they don’t seem to realize that it is not the same as a police officer being shot at and needing back-up. In that case, not being able to access the network or not being able to communicate with others can become a whole lot more than an inconvenience.

Even those in charge at FirstNet will tell you that both FirstNet and LMR networks are vital tools for public safety. Most recently, the head of AT&T’s FirstNet efforts was featured and quoted in an article in Urgent Communications and reposted on allthingsfirstnet.com saying the following:

“Push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) already is being used to replace LMR in non-mission-critical scenarios, but learning from those experiences eventually will impact acceptance of MCPTT-standard offerings, according to Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet.

It will start with extended primary [users] in public safety, and it will move to first responders, in time,” Sambar said last month during an event sponsored by Sonim Technologies. “I don’t know how long that will take. I think there will always be a place for LMR, because it’s a great tool. I think [LMR] will start slowly moving to a backup technology, though. But it will take time.””

Even AT&T understands that both FirstNet and LMR are needed today and into the future to ensure the safety of our first responders. As Mr. Sambar stated, it is possible today to move some administrative and other non-front-line public safety personnel off their LMR systems onto push-to-talk over FirstNet but it will take some time, if ever, for FirstNet to become the only communications platform for public safety.

Looking at the Other Concerns

Is LMR an antiquated technology or a proven technology? LMR was developed and deployed starting in the 1930s and push-to-talk communications were used by the military during World War II and in every conflict since. Some of today’s systems are based on digital technology (P-25) but there are still analog FM LMR systems in use, particularly in smaller agencies. LMR has evolved and now P25 PTT includes group PTT, one-to-one PTT, and the ability to be cross-connected with PTT on FirstNet.

One of the most significant advantages of LMR today is that many LMR systems are much closer to meeting the public safety-grade criteria than FirstNet. However, it is FirstNet’s (AT&T’s) goal to move FirstNet, over time, as close to a public safety-grade network as possible. While some new standards have been developed or are being developed to add even more redundancy to FirstNet, the results of these new standards remain untested.

LMR, on the other hand, has the real advantage of multiple modes of operation. If an LMR system is up and running using multiple sites in one of several modes that make that possible, and one or more sites fail, these sites, if still operational locally, switch to local access. If the site fails completely, units in the area can still communicate with each other using direct mode or off-network communications. This type of fallback is vital to the robustness of LMR. Further, if a site is in standalone operations mode, any unit in range will be able to communicate through the site. In the cellular world today, even if a site remains up but disconnected from the rest of the network, it is not clear whether devices will still be able to use the site because the device IDs and access rights are normally validated in the network core.

The most significant disadvantage FirstNet and all LTE networks have today when it comes to push-to-talk are that off-network PTT is not possible today with LTE. If two units or a group of units want to have a PTT conversation they must be in range of the network and the network must be operational. With LMR, neither of these is required. Off-network PTT can occur within the coverage of a network when one device is in network coverage and one is out of coverage, and if all units are out of coverage. This is a vital function of LMR that must be provided for FirstNet devices if FirstNet is ever to replace LMR PTT functions as well as network-related functions.

What Is Spectrum Worth?

This is an issue for which there are many answers. My answers are based on the following criteria:

  • In what portion of the RF spectrum is the subject spectrum?
  • How much of it is available?
  • What other services will need to be relocated out of this spectrum?
    1. To where will they move?
    2. Who will pay for the relocation?
  • Is the spectrum in a portion designed to cover LTE or 5G?
  • Is it possible to make this spectrum available nationwide?
  • Is the spectrum usable in mobile devices? (antenna size, battery life, device size)
  • Who are potential customers and is there more than one type of customer that might be interested enough in the spectrum to make it more valuable at auction?
  • What other factors might impact the cost of the spectrum?

Let’s start with LTE frequency allocations. According to Radio-Electronics.com, the issue with spectrum allocations for LTE using Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) where the cell site transmits on one part of the spectrum and the device transmits on another (what we are accustomed to), is that there must be sufficient separation between the two portions of spectrum to prevent the receiver from being blocked by the proximity of the transmitter. The FDD chart includes band 31 sets of spectrum at 452.5–457.5-MHz and 462.5–467.5-MHz, both of which are located in highly congested LTE public safety, business, paging, and other LMR systems in the United States. But this band is limited to 5 MHz of bandwidth, which means the value of this spectrum for broadband is very much diminished.

There are also LTE spectrum allocations for Time Division Duplex (TDD) (see some of Sprint’s 2-GHz spectrum holdings). In this case, the cell site and the device transmit on the same radio channel but in time slices so as not to interfere with each other. In TDD, the lowest spectrum supported is band 44, which is 100 MHz of spectrum in the 703–803-MHz range. Since Verizon and FirstNet broadband and LMR 700 are already in this spectrum in the United States, it is not practical to try to make use of it.

The T-Band 470–512-MHz is not included in any of the FDD or TDD LTE spectrum allocations. It does not offer enough spectrum in any given city (12 MHz total) for a reasonable FDD LTE transmit and receive split and the chances of it being used for TDD LTE in my estimation are slim to none. Add to this that this spectrum is only available in eleven major markets and the rest of the country is using this spectrum for its original purpose, which was to provide channels for TV stations, and there is yet another reason to limit the value of the T-Band spectrum.

The questions then boil down to who would want spectrum only in eleven major metro areas, who would then pay the estimated $billions in relocation fees for public safety (not including business users), and to where would these public safety systems be relocated? At one point the FCC was talking about using the T-Band for low-powered TV stations and translators but companies that do that are not inclined to pay much for spectrum. If the FCC were to offer the spectrum to them for nothing we would have more of a problem because there would be nowhere to move T-Band users to and no money with which to move them.

The value of spectrum varies widely based on the answers to my above questions. If you remember back to the AWS-3 auction (which funded the $7billion starter fund for FirstNet with the bulk of the $Billions coming from AT&T), it generated $44 billion in auction revenue. The price paid for this spectrum was more than had ever been paid for spectrum per-MHz in the United States. If you fast forward to the 600-MHz auction it was not nearly as successful for several reasons. First, carriers had all decided that 5G small cells were the be-all, end-all for capacity and speed increases in metro markets. The 600-MHz spectrum is great for more of the same LTE systems already on 700-MHz and other portions of the spectrum, but only spectrum above 2.5-GHz is really suitable for small cell. Many TV channels went unsold, and the price paid for the spectrum that was auctioned was much lower than expected. Verzion did not win a single piece of the spectrum even though it was registered to bid, and it stated beforehand that it really wanted 5G spectrum, not 600-MHz spectrum. As it turned out, Verizon did not bid on FirstNet either saying it simply did not need the spectrum. Not all of the spectrum was bid on and won and the bidding totaled $19.8billion, well below AWS-3 receipts.

Those who believe spectrum, regardless of where it is located in the RF spectrum, is worth a lot of money do not understand the issues. To raise money at an auction it needs to have nationwide availability and be in part of the spectrum where LTE or 5G spectrum is in demand. To try to convert 150–170-MHz from Land Mobile Radio to broadband mobile would end up with no one at the bidders’ table. Perhaps there are better future uses for this spectrum but not today and not with it encumbered with many different classes of license holders. The same goes for the 450–470-MHz and 800-MHz public safety bands.

The law that created FirstNet included a provision that the 12 MHz of 700-MHz spectrum used for LMR public safety communications could, at some future time, be converted to more broadband spectrum but only for public safety. That would not generate any revenue and would cause even more problems with LMR systems in the 700-MHz band that are deployed coast to coast including entire states such as Michigan. It appears as though those who are elected and can change the wireless landscape with their votes lose interest in converting a lot of spectrum to broadband when they come to understand that the highest and best use for spectrum in some portions of the RF spectrum is not for mobile broadband.

The AM broadcast band (525 KHz to 1705 KHz) is good for AM radio but at night local stations sometimes have to compete with interference from stations in other cities. As we move up the band into the MHz-region, we find long-distance ship-to-shore, country-to-country, amateur radio, and other forms of communications in spectrum that is not at all suited for broadband services. Then we reach VHF, UHF, and higher and some of this spectrum is great for broadband but some, such as 600-MHz and 700-MHz spectrum is better for larger cells with more coverage—the higher the spectrum the less range. 5G is based on the premise that there will be many small cells that are part of the network and users will move from one to another seamlessly as with cellular. However, since they are small cells with a lot of bandwidth, they will be able to deliver more capacity and data speeds.

Some people could have become very rich if they had realized four or five years ago that the real value for spectrum would shift to 2 GHz and above. However, until only a few years ago, the concept of cellular was the same: more towers closer together, and over time adding microcells. While 5G is a logical move forward, it was not widely considered viable until recently and now every carrier, cable tv company, and others want to play in this space.

The value of spectrum to the federal government depends on how many companies want access to the spectrum and for what purpose. 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) seem to be the big drivers today, which leaves spectrum such as the T-Band and, thankfully, the rest of the public safety spectrum as spectrum having value to be sure, but not enough for elected officials to see visions of national debt dollars floating before their eyes.

The Last Word

The UK has come to understand that in order to move its public safety community over to LTE in the next two years or so it will have to use Tetra for off-network PTT since LTE won’t be anywhere close to providing this capability.

Sonim has announced it will be providing off-network PTT using licensed P-25 channels and Harris’s XP-200p has four bands of LMR and FirstNet, too (once approved by AT&T). There will be more products coming, and a larger variety of options. At some point, the technology will enable a single device with lots of LMR capability and FirstNet with long battery life. Until then, public safety needs to be able to use LMR and FirstNet through different devices: FirstNet for information, visual prompts, video of the scene, and more; LMR for normal day-to-day voice communications that have for years worked and saved lives.

When we were all working with Congress and I was presenting at APCO broadband summits, I had a set of PowerPoints that compared and contrasted LMR and LTE. Perhaps it is time to dust them off, update them, and hold a few Wireless Universities again!

Andrew M. Seybold
©2018 Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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Upcoming P25 CAP Advisory Panel Meeting Information

The next P25 CAP AP meeting will be held in conjunction with the upcoming SAFECOM and National Council of Statewide Coordinators (NCSWIC) meetings.

The AP meeting will occur on Wednesday, May 16 from 3:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. PDT at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront, Salon H&I. P25 CAP AP members, industry, public safety, and interested attendees will have the opportunity to discuss various topics during the open Q&A. Among the expected topics is continued discussion in the addition of Inter RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) and Console Subsystem Interface (CSSI) testing to the P25 CAP.  An agenda including all logistical information is forthcoming. For those that cannot attend in person, note that the following conference bridge will be available: Dial-In: 866-951-1151 and Call ID: 7492054#.