FCC Gets Mixed Views on 911 Network Reliability Rules

The FCC has received various views on whether it should modify its network reliability rules, including outage notifications to public safety answering points (PSAPs), with some parties favoring certain revisions and others opposing them, including modifying what entities are covered by the regulations.

Comments were filed in PS 13-75 in response to a public notice released last month by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (TR Daily, June 13). Among other things, the public notice sought comment on whether the FCC should weaken the current regulations.

“Under current Commission rules, ‘covered 911 service providers’ are required to: 1) take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure 911 circuit diversity, availability of central office backup power, and diverse network monitoring; 2) certify annually to their performance of these measures, or to alternative measures demonstrated to be reasonably sufficient to mitigate the risk of failure; and 3) notify PSAPs of outages that potentially affect them,” the bureau noted in the public notice. “When the Commission adopted these rules [TR Daily, Dec. 12, 2013], it committed to review them in five years to determine whether they remain technologically appropriate, and both adequate and necessary to ensure the reliability and resiliency of 911 networks. The Bureau invites interested parties to provide comments and other information regarding how effective these provisions have been in practice, and whether these provisions should be modified to adapt to advancements in technology or other changes. The Bureau will use the record from this Public Notice to recommend next steps, if any, for the Commission’s consideration.”

“As a threshold matter, the Bureau seeks comment on the effectiveness of the existing 911 reliability rules. Have the Commission’s 911 reliability requirements for covered 911 service providers been effective in safeguarding the nation’s legacy, transitional, and Next Generation 911 (NG911) networks from preventable outages?” the bureau asked. “Are there examples of specific circuit diversity, central office backup power, and network monitoring measures that have been taken because of the Commission’s 911 reliability rules? Do the Commission’s current 911 reliability requirements adequately encompass transitional and NG911 networks? What are the most effective measures that covered 911 service providers have implemented to prevent and mitigate outages in networks that include transitional or NG911 elements? Commenters are also invited to submit any information or materials that demonstrate improvements in 911 network reliability since the 911 reliability rules’ effective date, including any contribution by the rules to those improvements. If the rules have not resulted in measurable improvements to 911 reliability, how should the Commission change these requirements?”

“The Bureau seeks comment on whether the industry participants in the transitional and NG9-1-1 environment are adequately encompassed by the term ‘covered 911 service provider’ and whether to revise the definition of that term. While APCO does not want to deter innovation and competition from new participants, these benefits must be balanced with the need for reliability, which might only be achieved by expanding the scope of regulations,” the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said in its comments. “The Commission should consider expanding the definition of ‘covered 911 service provider’ to include any entity that provides 9-1-1, E9-1-1, or NG9-1-1 capabilities, directly or indirectly. The reliability rules should ensure that any service intended for use during emergencies meets a minimum level of reliability. In some cases, entities without a direct relationship to a PSAP have found methods to impact the ALI [automatic location information], routing, or supplemental data relevant to a 9-1-1 call. APCO and others have pointed out the importance of ensuring that any new solutions are integrated into the 9-1-1 ecosystem in ways that are reliable and secure. The Commission should explore these issues further and if appropriate take action to ensure reliability for 9-1-1 without discouraging entities from providing helpful solutions for public safety.”

“The Bureau asks if the current PSAP notification rules for covered 9-1-1 service providers are effective in helping PSAPs gain timely information about outages that affect 9-1-1 services and take appropriate measures to help maintain continuity of access to emergency services,” APCO noted. “The current rules could be much improved upon to make notifications more streamlined, timely, detailed, and actionable, and extend to outages that are of consequence to PSAP operations but do not meet the high threshold for what constitutes an outage that potentially affects a ‘911 special facility.’ PSAPs should receive real-time outage information in an easily accessible format that provides situational awareness with regard to the timing, nature, and scope of any impacts to 9-1-1 services.

“This could be achieved by providing coordinate boundaries for the outage area, GIS files, or text information from the covered service providers’ internal reporting systems that can be integrated into the PSAPs’ mapping and/or CAD systems to provide a visual representation of the affected area,” APCO added. “This type of ‘notification’ would be far more actionable and a valuable supplement to the existing requirement of notification by telephone and in writing. Further, by integrating the information into PSAPs’ existing systems, carriers would have a streamlined method to notify PSAPs, negating the need for specific notification intervals and thresholds.”

In its comments, NENA said that “that significant further discussion should take place with regard to 9-1-1 access over Wi-Fi, specifically in the areas of network access policies, call routing, and caller location.” The group said that the FCC’s “911 Network Reliability Rules should address the databases and software that underpin the physical network,” and it said that “[t]he rapidly growing and diversifying 9-1-1 industry merits an expansion of the scope of the term ‘covered 911 service provider[.]’” NENA also said it “supports the outage reporting improvements provided by the ATIS Network Reliability Steering Committee (NRSC)[.]”

“On the effectiveness of the existing 9-1-1 reliability rules and Covered 911 Service Provider annual certifications, specific comments of substance beyond what is in the Commission’s Summary of 9-1-1 Certification Data for 2017 are difficult to provide, because the individual Covered 911 Service Provider filings are not available to state and regional 9-1-1 authorities for review,” the Texas 9-1-1 Alliance, the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications, and the Municipal Emergency Communication Districts Association said in joint comments. “In recent years there appear to be companies in the 9-1-1 public safety communications business providing the annual 9-1-1 reliability certifications for their communications services, while simultaneously there are companies not in the 9-1-1 public safety communications business making clear that use of their communications services must not result in them being deemed a Covered 9-1-1 Service Provider. In the absence of information to the contrary, such observations in opposite directions may be an indication that the existing Commission rules as currently written and the status quo strike a proper balance as to the appropriate level of regulation.”

The Texas 911 entities added, “On the issue of PSAP notifications and the recent outage notification Technical Report and Template filed by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (‘ATIS’), at this point in time the approach suggested in the ATIS Technical Report and Template seem to be positive steps in the right direction. This appears to be most especially the case for the specific template recommendations regarding clearer reporting of the ‘company performing PSAP notification,’ ‘company experiencing the outage event,’ ‘impact of the outage event,’ and ‘geography of the outage event,’ where a lack of specificity in outage notifications in the past has created confusion.”

“The Commission should maintain its annual 911 network reliability certification and PSAP notification rules, and continue to apply them only to companies that provide 911 services directly to PSAPs,” according to Verizon Communications, Inc. “These rules hold ‘covered service providers’ accountable for the reliability of their legacy, transitional, and next generation 911 networks, while affording flexibility to meet unique PSAP needs. The Commission should also support new industry practices that will help simplify the PSAP outage notification process for PSAPs and covered 911 service providers alike.”

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions said the FCC should not adopt new 911 network reliability rules and should eliminate unnecessary regulations.

“The Bureau seeks comment on possible alternatives to the existing 9-1-1 reliability rules. ATIS NRSC [Network Reliability Steering Committee] would support the implementation of a more general ‘reasonableness’ requirement under which covered 9-1-1 service providers would be required to take reasonable measures to ensure the reliability of their 9-1-1 networks, but without specific mandates related to 9-1-1 circuit diversity, availability of central office backup power, diverse network monitoring, etc.,’ ATIS noted. “This requirement, which should apply to all covered 9-1-1 providers including those operating legacy, transitional and NG9-1-1 networks, would provide covered 9-1-1 service providers with greater flexibility in network administration, while facilitating network resiliency. ATIS NRSC believes that such an approach could also leverage the significant work that the industry has done to develop voluntary industry Best Practices[.]

“ATIS NRSC, however, would oppose any effort to require covered 9-1-1 service providers to certify to implementation of certain Best Practices,” the filing added. “As ATIS has said many times, the defining characteristics of Best Practices [are] their collaborative and voluntary nature, and their ability to continually evolve to meet new technical, business, and consumer expectations. Best Practices cannot and should not be considered to be universally applicable mandates.”

“The Public Notice also asks whether the Commission should eliminate or modify its annual certification requirement. ATIS would support the elimination of this requirement, noting that there is no evidence that this requirement has had any significant impact to network reliability or resiliency,” ATIS said. “Alternatively, should the Commission decide to retain the certification requirement, ATIS NRSC recommends that the Commission consider modifying the rule to require certification less frequency than on an annual basis (e.g., biennially, triennially or even every five (5) years). The requirements in the rules will remain intact, so an annual certification isn’t needed to protect 911 network reliability. This would reduce the burdens associated with the Commission’s reliability rules, while still providing appropriate assurances that industry is aware of and in compliance with these regulations.”

ATIS also noted that “the Bureau also seeks information on ways to streamline PSAP notifications by reducing the number of PSAP notifications for the same outage event. NRSC members have several recommendations to reduce unnecessary and/or duplicative reports. One recommendation is to modify 47 CFR §4.3 to eliminate references to ‘non-affiliated entities.’ As currently written, the definitions in this section apply to providers as well as to affiliated and non-affiliated entities, resulting in duplicative outage reporting. Moreover, the Commission should consider allowing PSAPs to opt-out of outage notifications if the PSAP determines that these are not necessary and/or too burdensome to support. Finally, the Commission should also consider reducing or eliminating the need for providers to report the failure of location determination equipment, including Phase II equipment.”

The U.S. Telecom Association said it “believes that the rules have largely had, and continue to have, their desired effect of strengthening the resiliency of 911 networks. If changes are adopted, USTelecom recommends only a few narrowly-tailored administrative tweaks that would make them more efficient in light of past filings.”

“While USTelecom believes the underlying 911 reliability rules remain functional and useful in ensuring network reliability and resiliency, the Bureau should consider whether administrative changes to the reporting structure are warranted five years after adoption. In particular, certifying the results of the diversity audit on annual basis is no longer necessary given that the results do not change substantially from year-to-year,” the group said. “Accordingly, one administrative change that would significantly reduce burdens without changing the effect on resiliency would be to scale down the frequency of reporting to once every three years.”

Alaska Communications said it “believes that no change is necessary. At the time the rules were adopted, the rules had a beneficial effect by focusing the attention of covered service providers on the implementation, resilience, and reliability of 911 service across their respective networks, and that the rules remain effective today.”

USTelecom also said that “given that covered providers have already undertaken the largest effort to improve resiliency under the rules, there is little need for an ongoing corporate officer-level certification of compliance. It is unclear as to what extra benefit this is providing; companies are responsible, with enforcement penalties for non-compliance, for compliance with the rules regardless of a corporate officer certification. Given that much of the information underlying the certification has become more static after the initial report, the corporate officer-level certification of the report is of even less utility. A simple administrative change eliminating the company certification would be an appropriate change five years later.”

“The Commission’s 911 reliability rules thus successfully accommodate … challenges by blending specific target metrics with the opportunity for Covered 911 Service Providers to explain ‘alternative measures’ they have employed in light of specific obstacles to achieving full implementation of the circuit diversity, central office backup power, and diverse network monitoring goals of the Commission’s rules,” Alaska Communications added. “There is thus no need to abandon this model in favor of the inherently ambiguous ‘reasonable measures’ rule on which the Bureau seeks comment.”

West Safety Services, Inc., said it “opposes revision or expansion of the existing definition of covered 9-1-1 service provider. The current definition adequately encompasses the full range of entities providing core 9-1-1 capabilities to public safety answering points (PSAPs), and the definition’s technology-neutral approach is sufficiently flexible in the transitional and NG9-1-1 environment. By targeting the direct provider of 9-1-1 service to the PSAP that normally routes 9-1-1 calls, calling number or location information to the PSAP under contract, the Commission has established clear roles and responsibilities that are appropriate for PSAP operations and state/local governance of 9-1-1.”

West Safety Services said that the FCC’s “Commission’s approach to outage notification, on the other hand, is in need of standardization and reform. West Safety strongly supports the efforts of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) to recommend best practices that standardize content and delivery of 9-1-1 outage notifications to PSAPs. West Safety also encourages the Commission to consider alternative approaches to PSAP notification that could consolidate and streamline the number of notifications PSAPs receive about a single outage.”

Motorola Solutions, Inc., whose Vesta Solutions, Inc., subsidiary is a provider of 911 call handling solutions, said it “believes that the Reliability Rules have been successful in enhancing 9-1-1 network resiliency. Accordingly, Motorola Solutions does not support replacing the specific measures currently embodied in the rules with a general reasonableness requirement or eliminating the current certification requirements. Such proposals would undermine, rather than promote, 9-1-1 reliability.

“That said, the Commission should adopt modest clarifications to its Reliability Rules to further promote their effectiveness,” it added. “First, the Commission should clarify the period covered by the annual certification, which is due in mid-October of each year, by requiring that Covered Providers certify compliance as of June 30 of that same year. Second, the Commission should revise the definition of a Covered Provider by clarifying that the Covered Provider is an entity with a direct contractual relationship with a Public Safety Answering Point (‘PSAP’), statewide default answering point, or appropriate local emergency authority to provide 9-1-1, E9-1-1 or NG9-1-1 call routing, Automatic Location Information (‘ALI’), or Automatic Number Identification (‘ANI’) service or functional equivalent of those services.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily