FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has criticized wireless carriers’ efforts to restore networks in the wake of Hurricane Michael, said today there is a need to review the adequacy of the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework. “I believe that it is time for a comprehensive reevaluation of the last administration’s Wireless Resiliency Framework,” Mr. Pai told reporters during a news conference after today’s monthly FCC meeting.
Among the questions that should be asked include whether wireless carriers are following the framework, should the framework include backhaul providers, are power companies and wireless carriers communicating effectively, and does the FCC have the authority to ensure there is speedy restoration of communications networks after disasters or should Congress provide additional authority, Mr. Pai said. “These are just a few of the questions that I think need to be asked,” he added.
Mr. Pai visited hard-hit areas of Florida on Friday, and he said he had separate discussions with representatives of the four national wireless carriers, Comcast Corp., and a small fiber provider. He said the carrier representatives said there has been poor communication between carriers and power companies and a problem of fiber lines being cut accidently by power and debris-removal crews.
He said he talked with a representative of Florida Power and Light, which is the state coordinator for recovery on behalf of the power industry, and was told that power company crews had been briefed on avoiding fiber cuts. In the past two days, the number of such cuts has dropped considerably, he said, adding, “That is real progress.”
A reporter asked Mr. Pai whether the FCC would produce a report on Hurricane Michael. “We’re taking a look at all of the options,” he replied, adding that it’s important “to think broadly about emergency response” and wireless network resiliency.
Last week, Mr. Pai said he had asked the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to probe why it was taking as long as it was to get wireless service up and running, and he criticized wireless carriers’ efforts (TR Daily, Oct. 16). He also called on providers to waive the October bills of Florida customers in the affected areas. Carriers have announced plans to issue credits to those customers.
In a Hurricane Michael outage report released today, the FCC said that 4.6% of cells sites in the impacted area of Florida were out of service this morning, down from 5.2% yesterday, but 28.0% were still out in Bay County, which includes Mexico Beach, where the hurricane made landfall on Oct. 10. Gulf County was second at 17.4%. The report, using data from the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), also said that 50,387 cable system and wireline subscribers still had not had their service restored.
In 2016, the FCC released an order terminating a proceeding in which the agency had sought to bolster mobile wireless network resiliency in the wake of problems experienced during Hurricane Sandy (TR Daily, Dec. 21, 2016).
The FCC terminated the proceeding in the wake of the voluntary Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework announced by the wireless industry after Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced legislation that would have imposed resiliency mandates on wireless carriers (TR Daily, April 27, 2016).
In January, the Government Accountability Office said in a report that the FCC should collaborate “with industry to develop specific performance measures for the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework, monitor the framework’s outcomes, and promote awareness of it” (TR Daily, Jan. 9).
The GAO report noted that the “FCC said it would engage with industry about the framework’s implementation and use,” but the report said that the Commission “has limited formal plans to oversee or spread knowledge of the framework[.]”
The report said that (1) the “FCC developed a plan to track the completion of initial implementation tasks outlined in the framework, but this plan does not include steps to track or evaluate any outputs or outcomes from the framework”; (2) the “FCC and industry documents describe broad goals for the framework, such as advancing information sharing during and after emergency events, but neither FCC nor industry has set any specific measures to help determine whether the framework achieves these broad goals”; and (3) “[a]lthough some public safety officials and other stakeholders GAO contacted were not aware of the framework, FCC did not have plans to actively communicate information about the framework to these audiences.”
GAO said, “We are making the following three recommendations to FCC: The Chairman of FCC should work with industry, to the extent practical, to develop specific and measurable objectives for the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework, such as outputs to measure the extent of the framework’s use. (Recommendation 1) The Chairman of FCC should develop a plan to monitor the outputs and outcomes of the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework and document the results of its monitoring to evaluate its effectiveness and identify whether changes are needed. (Recommendation 2) The Chairman of FCC should promote awareness about the elements of and any outcomes from the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework among state and local public safety officials and other industry stakeholders, such as through existing outreach mechanisms and government-industry forums. (Recommendation 3)”
In August, the Public Safety Bureau released a report that detailed a number of planned or recommended steps to improve emergency response and recovery efforts in the wake of last year’s historic Atlantic hurricane season, including promoting the value of DIRS and requesting more DIRS data from providers, encouraging backhaul providers to participate in the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework and seeking more granular data, improving the ability to verify the availability of commercial wireless services, bolstering engagement with other critical infrastructure sectors, suggesting that industry entities partner with localities on training for emergencies, and recommending the implementation of various best practices (TR Daily, Aug. 24).
Regarding the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework, the report noted that, among other things, some parties have stressed the benefits of including additional and more granular information.
The Public Safety Bureau said that, in coordination with the Wireline Competition and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus, it would (1) “[e]ncourage backhaul providers to participate in the Wireless Framework and work cooperatively with wireless service providers and other stakeholders to develop: (a) a process for sharing restoration information with one another and the FCC, including a timeline of expected restoration efforts based on either the prioritized list of circuits or circuits designated for high traffic during emergencies; (b) best practices for information sharing and network restoration prioritization efforts, including coordination with federal, state, and local emergency agencies and power companies; and (c) a sustainable process for preparing and sharing contact information of emergency response agencies and power companies for emergency response, network restoration, and continuity of operations with other Wireless Framework signatories, affected providers, and the Commission;” and (2) “[s]eek voluntary industry commitments from Wireless Framework signatories to provide data of greater granularity that could be made public on an aggregated, anonymous basis when the Wireless Framework is triggered.”
“Wireless is a critical lifeline when disaster strikes. CTIA’s member companies will continue to work closely with the FCC and other stakeholders, such as power companies, to make sure consumers have access to wireless services when they need it most,” Scott Bergmann, senior vice president-regulatory affairs for CTIA, said today.
Lisa Belot, a spokeswoman for Sprint Corp., said today that her company “has been committed to supporting the framework since its inception, and will continue to work with the FCC and others in the industry to help ensure that customers can depend on our network during critical times.”- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org