Public Safety Entities Concerned Over FCC’s 911 Fee Diversion NPRM

Courtesy ~ TR Daily

A number of public safety entities have expressed concern about an FCC notice of proposed rulemaking adopted last month that proposes rules to tackle the diversion of 911 fees by states and local jurisdictions for other purposes (TR Daily, Feb. 17).

Public safety groups and state and local entities say some of the FCC’s proposals are vague and are not flexible enough to permit 911 fees to be used for the range of components necessary to deliver 911 services.  They also say that a diversion by a small number of jurisdictions should not risk the eligibility of an entire state for NG-911 grant funds and that the FCC should consider more than just 911 fee diversion and instead the broader question of all underfunding for 911 services. Some public safety entities also expressed concern about heavy-handed federal regulations of state and locality 911 activities.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020, which was enacted in December as part of omnibus appropriations legislation, directed the Commission to adopt rules defining what 911 fee uses by states and jurisdictions constitute diversion (TR Daily, Jan. 4).

The NPRM, which was adopted in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14, proposes to (1) “define the types of 911 fee expenditures by states and jurisdictions that are acceptable under the criteria[] in the new legislation;” (2) “allow states and jurisdictions to petition the Commission for a determination that a 911 fee expenditure not previously designated as acceptable by the Commission could be treated as acceptable;” (3) “prohibit any state or jurisdiction identified by the Commission as a fee diverter from serving on any advisory committee established by the Commission;” and (4) “require any state or jurisdiction that receives a federal 911 grant to provide the Commission with the information it requires to prepare its annual 911 fee report to Congress,” a news release noted.

The legislation also directed the FCC to establish an “interagency strike force,” which will study how the federal government can tackle 911 fee diversion most expeditiously and to report to Congress within 270 days. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau solicited nominations for membership on the strike force.

In its comments, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said it “opposes diversion of 911 fees. However, addressing fee diversion is a complex issue that entails both legal and practical issues. For example, the Commission may need to consider whether Federal rules defining how state funds can be used encompasses any state’s rights issues. The NPRM proposes specific purposes and functions that would be allowable and that would NOT be allowable for the use of 911 fees and charges. From NPSTC’s perspective, the enabling legislation and statutes in each state that address allowable expenditures also would need to be considered. Also, as a practical matter, the way in which the Commission ultimately defines allowable and nonallowable expenditures could certainly impact the ability of a state and its localities to answer and respond to 911 calls for help.

“Also, in adopting rules, it is important to recognize that the priorities and needs may change over time. At its recent meeting, the last one under its current charter, the Communications, Security and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) adopted a working group report that advises the FCC to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the 911 system by, among other things, explicitly allowing 911 fees collected by states and localities to be used for cybersecurity [TR Daily, March 10]. Overall, cybersecurity concerns have grown to be a much higher priority over just the last few years.”

NPSTC added that it “recommends that the foundation of any rules adopted have the underlying goal of assisting jurisdictions to have sufficient resources that enable reliable and modern 911 public safety answering points and associated public safety communications capabilities needed to respond to 911 requests for assistance, to the extent possible. Properly serving the public requires sufficient funding  for the requisite staffing, equipment, capabilities and reliability. Admittedly, this is somewhat broader than fee diversion alone. Simply addressing 911 fee diversion alone does not of itself encourage resource sufficiency for 911 and related public safety communications facilities.”

“The Commission seeks comment on how to effectively gather information on the impact of any underfunding of 9-1-1 services. The law requires the Commission, for submission to the strike force and in future annual reports, to include ‘any information regarding the impact of any underfunding of 9-1-1 services.’ This language demonstrates Congress’s intent to understand how any underfunding, not just underfunding as a result of diversion, is impacting 9-1-1 service across the country,” said the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. “Therefore, to satisfy Congress’s intent, the Commission should take a broad approach to investigating and analyzing the extent to which 9-1-1 is underfunded and the impacts of underfunding on emergency response.”

APCO continued, “Sufficient funding is needed to keep agencies fully staffed and trained, keep equipment and technology up to date and secure, and help public safety telecommunicators best meet the public’s expectations when carrying out their life-saving missions. Using the strike force and annual reports to better understand the relationship between funding for 9-1-1 and emergency response will produce helpful information for public safety agencies and serve the Commission’s and Congress’s goal of discouraging fee diversion while looking at the bigger picture of the extent of underfunding regardless of the source.”

APCO noted that the FCC “seeks comment on its proposed lists of acceptable and not acceptable purposes and functions for the obligation or expenditure of 9-1-1 fees or charges. While important, evaluating whether expenditures fit a particular definition of acceptable purposes and functions and labeling states as diverters if their expenditure was not included in a pre-approved list does not necessarily align with the broader goal of ensuring the adequacy of funding for 9-1-1 … .”

The National Association of State 911 Administrators said that while it opposes the diversion of 911 fees for other purposes, it urged “the Commission to approach its rulemaking and any subsequent consequences to 911 fee diversion in a manner that does not jeopardize the very 911 system it seeks to protect.”

For example, in response to a proposal to clarify that states and taxing jurisdictions are responsible for the diversion of 911 funds by localities that receive fees from states, NASNA said, “In some states, service providers remit fees directly to political subdivisions, such as counties, for 911 use. Due to limits either by their own statutes or constitutions, states have limited authority over the local use of those funds. Additionally, the resources that would be required by states to monitor and enforce adherence would have no visibility over how these funds are spent at the local level. If a state has responsibility for diversion of 911 fees under these rules, the Commission should consider reporting requirements for political subdivisions in states where they do not exist today or at least provide states a transition period to implement such reporting requirements.”

Regarding the NPRM’s proposal for acceptable purposes that 911 fees can be used for, NASNA suggested that it fails to consider broader use of 911 fees by some states. 

“In particular, the NPRM is vague and contradictory on acceptable uses related to communications infrastructure that connects PSAPs (or otherwise ensures the reliable reception and processing of emergency calls and their dispatch to first responders),” the filing said. “NASNA also notes the proposed appears to be vague as to the use of 911 funding to support the high-level administration of a 911 Program such as State 911 Administrative offices, Treasury fund processing, and collection actions for the non-payment of 911 fees.”

NENA reiterated that “the Commission must take care to avoid punishing state 9-1-1 offices for the behaviors of their legislatures or governors’ offices. We suggest further that the Commission avoid punishing these 9-1-1 offices for the actions of local entities over which those states may have no control. The Commission requests comment on including in its definition of diversion ‘distribution of 9-1-1 fees to a political subdivision that obligates or expends such fees for a purpose or function other than those designated by the Commission.’ NENA worries that the administrative burden of local surveillance and potential lack of state-level capacity for diversion enforcement has the potential to add to the already significant burden on state-level 9- 1-1 officials, whose responsibilities are already occupied with the baseline requirements of running a state 9-1-1 program and managing their state’s part in the nationwide transition to NG9-1-1. NENA is also concerned that states may lack the logistical capability to prevent this diversion of funds, especially in a timely manner.”

“The nature of state and local budget cycles means that these taxing jurisdictions often cannot change policy at the drop of a hat; offering timely and clear guidance on exactly what constitutes fee diversion (and whether that has changed recently) is essential to ensure states have a chance to do the right thing,” NENA added.

NENA also said that “it is absolutely essential that if a state is found to be guilty of diversion—especially for the first time, and especially in the midst of federal Next Generation 9-1-1 grant funding—that state be given notice of the Commission’s finding and opportunity to remedy. Lack of notice and remedy could be catastrophic for a state in the midst of a federally subsidized NG9-1-1 transition.”

A joint filing by 15 local and regional 911 authorities from Colorado said, “A small minority of jurisdictions outside of Colorado divert 911 fees, and that should be addressed. Have the ‘strike force’ work on stopping the fee diversion. The ‘strike force’ should not be used to make decisions on behalf of local government. The ‘strike force’ could look at what the states have in place and deem them acceptable, giving the ‘strike force’ more resources to concentrate on the problem and not trying to fix something that is not broken in most states, territories, and local jurisdictions.

“In Colorado, there are processes in place that prevent the state and local governments from diverting 911 fees,” the filing added. “We strongly encourage the FCC to include in proposed rule §9.24 some time limit in which the FCC will respond to petitions for clarification. Because Colorado is a strong local control state, meaning most 911 operations are carried out by local governments and not the State of Colorado, we strongly encourage the FCC to clarify that the rules will not deem the entire State of Colorado and all local 911 entities fee diverters if only a small number of individual 911 entities are found by the FCC to be diverting 911 fees. We also strongly endorse the concept of adding a pathway to compliance into the new rules. This would include the concept of a phase-in period of no less than one year for the new rules to allow states and local governments to come into compliance voluntarily.”

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission said that although “Colorado has never been designated as a diverter of 911 surcharge funds, the ability of state and local jurisdictions to comply with the rules proposed in this NPRM requires clearly defined rules that provide unambiguous guidelines. CoPUC recognizes that Congress has provided the FCC with a short time frame to finalize these rules, but we urge the FCC to ensure that in the rush to meet Congressional deadlines the FCC does not create rules that leave states struggling to interpret these new requirements. We also strongly encourage the FCC to think more about the process by which states or local jurisdiction may come into compliance with FCC rules regarding the use of 911 surcharge funds, since the goal of any rules should be to encourage and ensure compliance.”

Specifically, the FCC’s rules (1) “must provide clearer guidance on what it means by “PSAP operations”; (2) “should be clear that the costs of administering 911 programs, both at the state and local level, are an acceptable expense;” (3) “should also make clear whether emergency notification systems and expenses for 911-related membership organizations are acceptable expenses;” (4) “need to be clearer regarding what radio equipment or infrastructure is allowed and what is not, as the examples provided in the proposed rules are contradictory;” (5) “should provide a timeframe within which petitions for declaratory rulings will be addressed;” and (6) “should make clear that entire states will not be declared in violation of the FCC’s rules for spending decisions made by individual local jurisdictions within those states,” the CoPUC said.

In joint comments, nine local Michigan 911 entities said they “are supportive of the definitions proposed by the Commission regarding ‘911 fee or charge’ as well as the proposed definitional extension to include fees or charges designated for the support of ‘public safety,’ ‘emergency services,’ or similar purposes if the purposes of allowable uses of such fees or charges include the support or implementation of 911 services.[]  However, the definitional limitations proposed in paragraphs 24 through 25 of the NPRM are not acceptable. The limitations fail to recognize the interdependencies of the 911 dispatch system, as well as being inconsistent with prior Commission precedent.” They also urged the FCC to “find that the public safety radio system represents an appropriate use of 911 funding.”

The entities also asked the Commission to “impose mandatory timelines for consideration of a Petition for Determination” and said it agreed with NPSTC “on the need to specifically recognize the use of 911 funds for PSAP cybersecurity expenditures, and the need to closely review the full impact of proposed limitations on diverting state’s ability to participate on advisory committees. While some limitations may be appropriate, such sanctions must be narrow and targeted to resolving the issue, and not punishing and compromising public safety.” 

The Oklahoma 9-1-1 Management Authority said that one of its concerns regarding PSAPs in the state  “is a lack of priorities for 9-1-1 funding and a lack of a strategic technology plan. These two factors play a much more important role than diversion in the State. Oklahoma has a current bill in front of the legislation that will mandate the Authority to create a list of approved expenditures for 9-1-1 fees in the State. However, we will need to take an approach to help local PSAPs understand the technology needs and help prioritize them as well as create an authorized list of expenditures.”

The authority added that it “agrees that oversite is needed and also agrees in Federal standards to ensure 9-1-1 fee diversion does not occur. However, we believe the rules set at the Federal level need to be broad and allow for flexibility within the State and region to narrow the requirements as needed to fit the local need.”

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) expressed support to tackle fee diversion, and said the Commission should consider frameworks used by states and municipalities. It said that “Pennsylvania has developed its legislation, fee rate, and eligibility requirements to meet Pennsylvania’s specific circumstances and needs to support 911 service.”

“PEMA commends the Commission’s approach of suggesting a broad framework of acceptable purposes and functions for the obligation or expenditure of 911 fees. The framework, if defined properly, would provide states and political subdivisions the flexibility to use 911 funds to suit their particular needs and circumstances while staying within the defined framework of acceptable uses and mitigating fee diversion,” the filing said. “However, it is not apparent the proposed rules provide a comprehensive framework of call delivery, processing, and dispatch functions related to PSAP operations or provide flexibility for the adoption of future technologies and capabilities such as NG911. The framework should consider needs of a NG911 environment such as networking, cybersecurity, geospatial information systems, and other NG911 related costs.”

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) said that creating rules for fees or charges other than those designated for 911 services would exceed the FCC’s statutory authority.

“The Commission seeks comment on extending the definition of ‘911 fee or charge’ to include fees or charges designated for the support of ‘public safety,’ ‘emergency services,’ or similar purposes if the purposes or allowable uses of such fees or charges include the support or implementation of 911 services. The Commission should revise its rule to define ‘911 fee or charge’ as those fees or charges specifically designated for the support of 911 services, whereby bringing it into alignment with statute,” it said. 

“The Commission seeks comment on its proposal defining acceptable purposes and functions for ‘multi-purpose’ fees or charges. The Commission should revise its proposal to reflect that multi-purpose fees and charges fall outside the scope of its authority. The Commission should remove accounting rules for multi-purpose fees or charges from its proposed rule,” the filing added.

The DHSES also said that the FCC has failed to meet “its obligation under the statute or the Administrative Procedure Act” to consult with public safety organizations and states. “The notice of proposed rulemaking makes no clear reference to any of the required consultation, thereby preventing input and consideration by the regulated parties. Further, the Commission has not yet reached out to impacted states, including New York, for consultation on this proceeding,” it added.

Several industry entities expressed support for the rulemaking.

“We applaud the Commission for its quick action in implementing the statute and taking further steps to end 911 fee diversion,” NCTA said. “As the Commission has noted, the diversion of fees collected to fund 911 service is a significant and ongoing problem, with more than $1 billion diverted between 2012 and 2018. This misdirection of 911 fees is unacceptable given the reliance people place on the 911 system and the urgent nature of these calls.”

CTIA encouraged the FCC “to further clarify the nature and scope of acceptable obligations or expenditures of 9-1-1 fees on 9-1-1-related services and functions. The Commission should also expand the proposed declaratory ruling process to enable other stakeholders, including communications providers and public safety organizations, to request FCC guidance over whether certain measures constitute 9-1-1 fee diversion. Finally, the FCC should confirm that communications providers’ collection of multipurpose fees identified as a single line item on consumers’ bills does not constitute 9-1-1 fee diversion, so long as the fees are collected into sequestered accounts and providers have the flexibility to disclose the purpose of the combined fees to consumers.”

T-Mobile US, Inc., said it “has long encouraged the Commission to adopt clear guidance defining what constitutes 911 fee diversion. Such comprehensive direction would spell out clear and transparent factors of what does and does not constitute diversion, thereby encouraging states to adopt best practices for spending 911 funds appropriately. Thus, T-Mobile is pleased that the Commission has proposed to adopt a definition of ‘911 fee or charge’ that would establish clear boundaries around what 911 fees may be used for. As the Commission moves forward to adopt a definition, T-Mobile encourages it to seek additional information on the practices of various states, counties, and municipalities to ensure that its definition of ‘fee diversion’ captures all instances where 911 fees are not being used for 911 costs.”

The carrier also encouraged “the Commission to consider and support alternative means of funding 911 services that do not rely on consumer surcharges.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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NENA, NASNA Detail Complaints With NG-911 Legislation

Courtesy ~ TR Daily

NENA and the National Association of State 911 Administrators have detailed their complaints with next-generation 911 legislation included in the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act, including the treatment of NENA’s i3 standard, shortcomings concerning  interoperability and reliability language, and the need for explicit authorization to use grant funds for cybersecurity.

The LIFT America Act, which was introduced by the 32 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (TR Daily, March 11), includes $15 billion for grants to fund NG-911 deployment.

The Public Safety Next Generation 9-1-1 Coalition, which is backed by eight major public safety groups, has endorsed the NG-911 provisions (TR Daily, March 18). 

But in a letter dated Friday but not released until today to the leaders of the House Commerce Committee and its communications and technology subcommittee, NENA and NASNA said, “The LIFT America Act recognizes that the governance and control of 911 systems, including NG911, should remain at the State, regional, and local level. At the same time, it establishes a nationwide framework to facilitate cooperation among Federal, State, and local officials and to promote the interoperability and reliability of NG911 systems. NASNA and NENA support these important objectives but believe they would be undermined by some of the Act’s provisions. Congress must act to rectify the following provisions or risk compromising NG911 for many years ahead.”

The groups complained that the legislation “fails to fully account” for NENA’s i3 standard “ecosystem,” noting that it would require the standard to be approved by the American National Standards Institute and “meet the definition of interoperable” in the bill while not requiring other standards to meet that definition. “The result of these distinctions borders on absurd,” NENA and NASNA argued.

The groups said that lawmakers should modify the bill so “‘commonly accepted standards’ means standards followed by the communications industry that enable interoperability, are consensus-based, and are developed by recognized standards development organizations.”

Regarding interoperability, NENA and NASNA called for “an additional explicit requirement in the legislation that NG911 systems be interoperable and that grant applicants take steps to demonstrate in their state plans how they will achieve interoperability.”

Congress should “either make clear in the legislative language that the definition of ‘interoperable’ in the Act only applies to NG911 or, alternatively, to modify the definition of ‘interoperable’ in a way that ensures interoperability between NG911 systems and legacy 911 systems,” they added.

As for reliability, NENA and NASNA said that “the reliability requirements imposed on NG911 grant recipients should be consistent with the FCC’s rules, as State 911 authorities will necessarily look to NG911 service providers to comply with any grant obligations.”

They also bemoaned the fact that “while the Act generally authorizes the use of NG911 grant funds for ‘implementation of NG911,’ it does not explicitly authorize cybersecurity expenses. NASNA and NENA believe that such expenditures should be expressly permitted. Notably, some states have already implemented an NG911 system but may have plans to establish an emergency communications cybersecurity center (EC3) to provide intrusion detection and protection services for PSAPs in their states. The implementation of State-based EC3s was recommended by the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) as an efficient and effective framework for addressing cyber-based threats; this concept was also endorsed by CSRIC.”

The groups also said that “the Act should require NG911 grant applicants to certify annually that they are employing effective cybersecurity resources to protect NG911 systems and services from cyber-based attacks. While the Act requires applicants to address cybersecurity resources in their State plans, we believe that annual certification from the grant recipient that effective measures are being employed will provide additional assurance that NG911 systems will be protected.”

NENA and NASNA said they “oppose the establishment of a Federally managed security operations center (SOC) to manage cybersecurity on behalf of the nation’s PSAPs. While the security of our nation’s 911 systems is vital, the solution outlined in the Act would undermine State and local control of 911 systems, inject significant and complex privacy, technical and legal challenges into the NG911 implementation and operations process, and impose additional costs and administrative burdens on the National 911 Program — all without a clear roadmap for success.”

NENA and NASNA also said there is no need to establish an NG911 Advisory Board. If lawmakers keep such a provision in the legislation, any board should have NG-911 experts, the board should not add costs to the grant process, the board should only advise on grant guidelines, and the board should not be exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act, according to the groups. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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Coalition Endorses NG-911 Legislation, Criticizes Others

Credit: TR Daily

The Public Safety Next Generation 9-1-1 Coalition today endorsed NG-911 legislation that is included in the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act, which was introduced by the 32 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week (TR Daily, March 11). The package includes $15 billion for grants to fund NG-911 deployment. But the coalition criticized NENA and the National Association State 911 Administrators (NASNA) for opposing the legislation.

The coalition said in a news release today that it “helped develop and fully supports the Next Generation 9-1-1 legislation that was included in the LIFT America Act with the leadership of Representatives Frank Pallone [D., N.J.] and Anna Eshoo [D., Calif.]. The Coalition’s approach is to secure the best outcome for public safety professionals and the communities they serve as they carry out their life-saving missions. Accordingly, the Coalition believes that this legislation is deserving of widespread bipartisan support throughout Congress. Unfortunately, some parties that disagree with the Coalition’s public safety-oriented principles are spreading misinformation about the legislation.”

Capt. Mel Maier, commander of the Emergency Communications and Operations Division of the Oakland County (Mich.) Sheriff’s Office who is a spokesman for the coalition, told TR Daily this afternoon that “some parties” in the news release “refers to a number of groups that are opposed to the legislation including NENA, based upon an inaccurate interpretation of bill language.”

He added that “NASNA is included in that category, which is surprising as they participated with our Coalition and in the development of the bill, and much of what they had identified as important was certainly included in the bill.”

NENA and NASNA are not included on the coalition’s letterhead, as eight other major public safety groups are.

The coalition said in today’s news release that legislation it supports will (1) “[n]ot only build upon current investments but rescue public safety agencies from being left with overly costly, substandard, incomplete, and non-interoperable solutions”; (2) “[e]nsure that technology standards prevalent in the consumer marketplace, and which have led to enormous innovation, interoperability, and economies of scale, are employed for NG9-1-1”; (3) “[e]nsure that other standards that vendors desire to use have the approval of a well-recognized standards development accreditation body”; (4) “[a]dhere to the cybersecurity protections for 9-1-1 recommended by an esteemed federal advisory committee”; (5) “[c]reate a well-rounded, balanced, and efficient advisory board composed of a cross-section of public safety professionals to provide initial and ongoing expertise to the federal agency responsible for administering the grant program”; and (6) “[n]ot only preserve state and local control of NG9-1-1 operations but ensure that diverse local public safety input is fully accounted for in all NG9-1-1 plans and grant applications.”

The coalition added that it “is solely motivated by what is needed by public safety professionals as they carry out their missions to save and protect the public every day. The Coalition appreciates the federal commitment to fund the transition to NG9-1-1 and respects the need to ensure that federal funds are expended in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Our grassroots effort will serve to express our support for the NG9-1-1 legislation, educate and, when necessary, dispel any misconceptions.”

NASNA recently called on Congress to pass NG-911 legislation that retains “the management of 911 systems at the State, regional, and local levels” while facilitating cooperation among entities nationwide (TR Daily, March 2).

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, NASNA said, “There are other interests that are raising new proposals to the framework that was previously agreed upon. While perhaps well-intentioned, those proposals would substantially disrupt the efforts of State authorities to develop, implement, and operate NG911 systems. Those changes include establishing a Federal NG911 security operations center, the creation of a new Federal program to drive development of new NG911 standards and technologies, and adding restrictive requirements for credentialing and access management.”

NASNA added, “We agree that NG911 security, standards, and credentialing are all important issues, which is why they are all currently being addressed by State 911 authorities. We urge you to reject these proposals and to move promptly to introduce legislation consistent with the bill language we have attached.”

NASNA Executive Director Harriet Rennie-Brown, who signed the letter to congressional leaders, told TR Daily that the “other interests” mentioned in the letter was a reference to the coalition, whose members include a number of major public safety groups. The coalition has pushed draft legislation that would call for a “nationwide strategy” to deploy NG-911 (TR Daily, Sept. 1, 2020).

In response to the LIFT America Act, NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes said, “The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the cracks in the foundation of all public safety response: America’s 9-1-1 systems. It is absolutely essential that we get it right. But unfortunately, the language introduced today could strand already-substantial state investments in NG9-1-1 deployments, and create cybersecurity risks for state, local, and tribal governments.”

NENA noted that it has asked lawmakers “to build on the widely supported language of the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that enjoys the backing of more than 17,000 local 9-1-1 administrators and front-line dispatchers, as well as state 9-1-1 administrators and industry leaders.”

Mr. Fontes added, “There is already widespread agreement in the 9-1-1 community on the standards and technologies needed to make Next Generation 9-1-1 a reality in every community within this decade. What we need now is a major federal commitment and a workable policy framework to get it done.”

In response to the coalition’s news release today, Dan Henry, NENA’s regulatory counsel and director-government affairs, said, “Funding for NG9-1-1 is absolutely essential for public safety and for all those we protect.  As the only association solely dedicated to 9-1-1, we’re committed to working with Congress and all others to ensure effective legislation and a successful NG9-1-1 grant program.”

NASNA had no immediate comment. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC Outreach

On Monday, Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated a draft Report and Order to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP).    “As we work our way through a pandemic that has upended so much in our day-to-day life, we have been asked to migrate so many of the things we do online. From work to healthcare to education, this crisis has made it clear that without an internet connection too many households are locked out of modern life. It’s more apparent than ever that broadband is no longer nice-to- have. It’s need-to-have.” Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel  The FCC is seeking outreach partners to help build awareness and educate consumers about the Emergency Broadband Benefit among their membership and communities.  Sign up at the FCC’s EBB webpage and bookmark the page to check on program updates and important information for consumers.  Circulating the Draft Report and Order among the FCC’s Commissioners is an important step in our rulemaking process.  Ultimately, the item will be voted on by the Acting Chairwoman and Commissioners.  Then, assuming an affirmative vote, the Bureaus and Offices of the FCC would begin the process of launching and executing the program.  The Acting Chairwoman has also released a preview of the March Open Meeting agenda. You can see her Notes on both the agenda and the Emergency Broadband Benefit .You can see her Notes on both the agenda and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Order here: https://www.fcc.gov/about/leadership/jessica-rosenworcel#link-0 .

FYSA: Releasing the FY 2021 SAFECOM Guidance on Emergency Communications Grants

On behalf of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, I am releasing the FY 2021 SAFECOM Guidance on Emergency Communications Grants (SAFECOM Guidance), which has been posted to the SAFECOM website at: cisa.gov/safecom/funding. The SAFECOM Guidance is updated annually to provide relevant information on policies, eligible costs, technical standards, and best practices for state, local, tribal, and territorial grant recipients investing federal funds in emergency communications projects. While only certain agencies require compliance with the SAFECOM Guidance, all entities are highly encouraged to follow the recommendations within this document to ensure interoperable, resilient, and fully effective communications.

In its 15th edition, the SAFECOM Guidance continues to evolve to meet the needs of the public safety community. This year’s guidance reflects the current public health and geopolitical landscapes, investment priorities, technical standards, and available supporting materials for implementing emergency communications projects. Key changes to the guidance include information on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, new cybersecurity resources, and repeal of the T-Band spectrum auction.

The development of this document would not have been possible without the input, ideas, and expertise of our partners at SAFECOM and NCSWIC. We thank them for their contributions to ensure that emergency communications policies are consistent across the Federal Government. For questions or additional information on the SAFECOM Guidance, please email: ECD@cisa.dhs.gov.

Parkinson: FirstNet ‘Will Become Stronger’ After Nashville Bombing & More News

Courtesy TR Daily

Parkinson: FirstNet ‘Will Become Stronger’ After Nashville Bombing

The nationwide public safety broadband network that AT&T, Inc., is building for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) “will become stronger” because of a Christmas Day 2020 bombing in Nashville that severely damaged an AT&T central office, resulting in outages to FirstNet subscribers (TR Daily, Jan. 4), FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson said today.

“We will learn from this event—public safety will learn from this event—and ultimately the FirstNet system will become stronger as a result of this,” Mr. Parkinson said during a quarterly meeting of the FirstNet board and its committees held via video conferencing.

Mr. Parkinson added that he appreciates the “no-holds-barred, direct information” that FirstNet has received from FirstNet subscribers about the impact of the bombing on their service.

Last month, FirstNet board Chairman Robert (Tip) Osterthaler, Vice Chairman Richard Carrizzo, and other FirstNet officials traveled to Tennessee and Kentucky to meet with public safety users that were impacted by the outages (TR Daily, Feb. 2). FirstNet also has had virtual discussions with public safety officials and state, local, and federal users. Those discussions continue.

Mr. Parkinson said that FirstNet is working to “develop this comprehensive picture” to review the impact of the bombing on public safety operations.

“Ultimately, we plan to make recommendations to AT&T that will enhance the user experience,” he said.

Also during today’s meeting, which lasted less than 45 minutes, Mr. Osterthaler said that FirstNet is waiting for the Biden administration to appoint a new designee on the board representing the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

In addition, Todd Early, chairman of the board’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, said that the chair of its tribal working group, Danae Wilson, who has represented the National Congress of American Indians, is departing. She has also served on the PSAC’s executive committee.

During the meeting, Dave Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-public safety engagement, outlined advocacy efforts during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021—the last three months of calendar year 2020—and plans for the rest of the year.

During the first quarter, there were 23 focus groups with public safety stakeholders from 33 states, 93 national events, 310 public safety engagements, and more than 10,000 stakeholders reached, according to Mr. Buchanan.

Looking ahead, he said, FirstNet wants to focus on demonstrations; emphasize collaboration with industry, academia and government; and “document and publish actionable feedback … in order to improve the FirstNet experience.” The authority wants to continue to grow the public safety marketplace while focusing on a new and expanded marketplace that involves industry, academia, and government partners, he said.

Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet’s chief network and technology officer, and Mr. Parkinson said they were pleased that there are now 1.9 million subscribers on the FirstNet system from more than 15,000 public safety agencies and organizations (TR Daily, Jan. 27), and Mr. Bratcher said the deployment of Band 14 remains ahead of schedule, with 80% deployed.

Mr. Bratcher also said that more than 256 FirstNet devices are available, 193 of which support Band 14, and more than 166 apps are in the FirstNet catalog.

The officials also welcomed AT&T’s recent announcement of several offerings, including those dealing with Z-axis location-accuracy, high-power user equipment, and land mobile radio interoperability for push-to-talk enhancements. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Strengthen CISA to Boost Federal Cybersecurity, House Committee Told

To improve the cybersecurity of civilian executive branch agencies, Congress should go further to give the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency authority to impose cybersecurity requirements on agencies and allow it to be the cybersecurity service provider for those agencies, the House Homeland Security Committee was told today.

“CISA needs to become a shared service provider for cybersecurity for agencies.  When you look at over 130 executive branch agencies, the vast majority of them will never have the talent, the expertise, or the resources to defend themselves against the most sophisticated nation-states,” Dmitri Alperovitch, executive chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, told the committee.

CISA became a stand-alone operational component of the Department of Homeland Security in late 2018 when President Trump signed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act.  Under its initial director, Christopher Krebs, CISA accelerated its efforts to provide shared services to civilian agencies.  At today’s hearing, however, Mr. Krebs described what happened during his tenure as a “half step.”

“We need to take that full step.  Agencies … are simply not in a position to secure themselves all by themselves,” Mr. Krebs told the committee.  The federal government needs a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy for civilian executive branch agencies, he said, and that strategy should include mandates for all agencies to meet.

“Those requirements will likely be very onerous and very expensive, and I can think of maybe a handful of agencies that would be able to comply,” Mr. Krebs said.

Mr. Alperovitch, in his written testimony, recommended that Congress “take steps to set CISA on a path to becoming the operational CISO, or chief information security officer, of the civilian federal government.”

“Congress took an important step toward centralizing federal cybersecurity strategy by creating CISA in DHS in 2018, but the next step is to give CISA both the authority and the resources that it needs to effectively execute its mission,” he said.

“Ultimately, CISA should have the operational responsibility for defending civilian government networks, just as Cyber Command does for DoD networks,” he added.

Other recommendations from witnesses at the hearing, titled “Homeland Cybersecurity: Assessing Cyber Threats and Building Resilience,” focused on ways the federal government could coax the private sector into improving cybersecurity.

Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of national intelligence, noted that the federal government responded to the 1929 stock market crash by establishing the Securities and Exchange Commission and later requiring publicly-traded companies to use the standardized bookkeeping methods known as generally accepted accounting principles.

“In 2021 is it time for us to consider a bipartisan government and private sector approach to looking at generally accepted security principles?” she asked.  “It just isn’t satisfying to me” that private sector entities, especially those subject to SEC regulation, can decide for themselves how to protect their networks, she said.

Michael Daniel, who was the White House cybersecurity coordinator during the Obama administration and now is president and chief executive officer of the Cyber Threat Alliance, said the public and private sectors needed a more mature relationship to collaborate on cybersecurity.

“Cybersecurity forces the government and the private sector into a different kind of relationship. Traditionally, the government is either a regulator or a customer for the private sector. While the government does have those relationships in cybersecurity, the government and private sector can have a third type of relationship in this area, that of partner or peer,” Mr. Daniel testified.

“This type of peer relationship is relatively new, and we do not have the necessary laws, policy, procedures, or even vocabulary to fully manage it, other than the overused ‘public-private partnership’ term,” he said.

“We need to fully develop the laws, policies, and procedures to govern this type of interaction, so that the relationships remain aligned with our overall sense of equity and appropriate roles for government versus the private sector,” he added. —Tom Leithauser, tom.leithauser@wolterskluwer.com

FCC to Consider 911, Secure Network Items, Hear Reports at Feb. 17 Meeting

The FCC plans at its Feb. 17 meeting to vote on items addressing 911 fee diversion and network security and to get staff presentations on efforts to implement three initiatives funded by the recent omnibus appropriations and COVID-19 relief package (TR Daily, Jan. 27).

The FCC plans to consider a notice of proposed rulemaking in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14 implementing section 902 of the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020. Among other things, the legislation requires the Commission to take steps to address states’ diversion of 911 fees for other purposes.

Also on tap is a third further NPRM in WC docket 18-89 proposing to modify FCC rules in response to changes made in the omnibus appropriations legislation to the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act.

The three initiatives on which staff will deliver reports are the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program for low-income Americans and those affected economically by the pandemic, which was created by Congress in the recent legislative package; the COVID-19 Telehealth Program created last spring for which Congress appropriated an additional $249.5 million in the recent legislation; and the collection of information aimed at creating more accurate and granular broadband data maps, as mandated by the Broadband DATA Act, for which Congress appropriated $65 million in the recent legislation. 

The meeting is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FirstNet Fires Back at Interoperability Complaints

Courtesy of TR Daily

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson fired back today at critics who bemoan a lack of interoperability with the nationwide public safety broadband network that AT&T, Inc. is building under a contract with FirstNet.

“Recent claims that there is a lack of interoperability with FirstNet and that special interoperability solutions are needed are simply not true—they ring hollow for those who understand the value of a nationwide public safety broadband network and that rely on FirstNet to keep them mission ready every day,” Mr. Parkinson said in a blog posting. “They depend on us for public safety standardized features, such as Mission Critical Push-to-Talk, aka FirstNet Push to Talk, and things as simple as sending a text to a public safety counterpart using another commercial wireless service. Because we are fully committed to international standards, they all work seamlessly.

“In fact, the 2012 legislation that created the FirstNet Authority not only called for our broadband network to be based on 3GPP standards, but required us to be actively involved in standards organizations representing public safety,” Mr. Parkinson added. “This legislation recognized that standards-based solutions not only provide interoperability, but also foster creative innovation for Mission Critical services, provide economies of scale, and provide for multiple suppliers of services which typically leads to lower costs. To reinforce this commitment to standards, our contract with AT&T requires the use of interoperable standards-based solutions.”

He said that FirstNet “has been actively working to develop standards for mission critical services in 3GPP since 2012. In collaboration with global public safety colleagues in 3GPP and AT&T, the FirstNet Authority led the charge to complete standards for mission critical services, such as Push-to-Talk, Video, and Data, including enablers such as direct mode device-to-device (D2D) and group communication services (e.g. Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS). We continue to work on enhancing these standards and evolving them for inclusion in 5G and ensure that the needs of first responders are addressed, now and in the future. In addition to the work in 3GPP, the FirstNet Authority and AT&T have been actively involved in developing standards for interworking new broadband mission critical services with legacy Land Mobile Radio systems.  

“We are responsible for keeping public safety’s unique communication needs at the forefront of technology and as a result, FirstNet is the fully operable communications network that public safety asked for, it is available today and, as public safety’s communications needs advance, it will continue to grow and evolve for decades to come,” Mr. Parkinson stressed.

Earlier this month, Verizon Communications, Inc., which offers a public safety service that competes with FirstNet, called on industry to join together to ensure there is “true” interoperability for first responders (TR Daily, Oct. 15).

“We cannot achieve true interoperability … until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards. Verizon isn’t waiting for that; we have partnered with Mutualink to enable first responders to easily create secure group communications for improved collaboration and data sharing in near-real time, giving agencies greater control and choice when cross-agency communications are mission critical,” said Andrés Irlando, Verizon’s senior vice president and president of its public sector and Verizon Connect. “It’s time to get to work. We invite other industry leaders to join us. It’s simply the right thing to do for the dedicated public servants who risk their lives every day to save others—and for the millions of Americans they protect and serve.”

Verizon has argued that FirstNet has a “restrictive and proprietary approach” to interoperability, a criticism shared by some others that have called on policy-makers to require FirstNet to permit other carriers to interoperate with the FirstNet core.

“Without true interoperability, first responders responding to the same emergency using different service providers will only be able to communicate within their own user groups and unable to use one another’s public safety audio, video, and data services,” Verizon told the FCC last year (TR Daily, Sept. 30, 2019).

FirstNet and AT&T have argued that the type of interoperability sought by Verizon and others is not what Congress envisioned when lawmakers created FirstNet and that it could impair the security and resiliency of the nationwide network.

In his blog posting today, Mr. Parkinson said that “public safety expected us to aim squarely at solving the interoperability issue that had plagued effective public safety communications for decades by ensuring that we did not repeat the mistakes of the past—we could not create a patchwork of disparate and incompatible broadband networks, and we had to implement a network based upon open standards.”

“The first responder subscribers from these agencies enjoy full, seamless operability with one another and represent every public safety discipline and all levels of government in the 56 jurisdictions that we serve,” he added. “Because we based FirstNet on open international wireless standards as required by Congress, and created objectives requiring AT&T through our contractual agreement to meet those standards, the network is interoperable with other standards-based mobility networks. Our users can talk, text and exchange data with the users of commercial wireless networks across the globe.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

6 GHz Band Group Approves Leaders

Credit: Paul Kirby, TR Daily

A 6 gigahertz band multi-stakeholder group today approved leaders for the group as well as for sub-groups that will tackle three work streams, but it tabled action on approving the scope of work, leaders, and even the title for a fourth subgroup that will focus on contention-based protocol issues.

The four co-chairs of the overall group plan to meet before an Oct. 30 meeting of the overall group to outline a framework for dealing with the outstanding issues regarding the fourth subgroup. Those issues took up the bulk of a 90-meeting held virtually today.

A number of group members expressed opposition to even creating the fourth subgroup, saying that the planned topic of contention-based protocol issues seemed to be out of the scope of the multi-stakeholder group. A proposed title for the fourth subgroup dealing with contention-based protocol “requirements” drew opposition as well. Among those who expressed concerns about the fourth subgroup, which was proposed by the UWB Alliance, were representatives from NCTA, Comcast Corp., Qualcomm, Inc., and Broadcom, Inc.

Representatives of 6 GHz band incumbents were approved as leaders of the overall group and each subgroup. Incumbents have complained about the potential for interference from unlicensed devices as a result of the 6 GHz band order adopted by the FCC in April (TR Daily, April 23).

The four co-chairs of the overall group are Richard Bernhardt, national spectrum adviser for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association; Edgar Figueroa, chief executive officer of the Wi-Fi Alliance; Don Root, chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council’s Spectrum Management Committee; and Brett Kilbourne, vice president-policy and general counsel of the Utilities Technology Council.

Leaders of the subgroup focused on work stream 1 (the process for harmful interference, detection, reporting, and resolution) are Mark Poletti, director-wireless technology for CableLabs; Tim Godfrey, technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute; Jason Matthews of the Lake County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office; and Guy Bail, director-AFC for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

Danielle Piñeres, VP and associate general counsel for NCTA, suggested the slate of leaders was “a little bit unbalanced” because it included two public safety representatives. She suggested that there should only be one.

But Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director-government relations for APCO, said, “This is probably the most important work stream for public safety.” He added that there wouldn’t be “great harm or imbalance” in having two public safety representatives as leaders.

The leaders of the subgroup for work stream 2 (the updating of incumbent information) are Mark Gibson, director-business development and spectrum sharing policy for Comsearch, and Farokh Latif, director-AFC for APCO.

The leaders of the subgroup for work stream 3 (automated frequency coordination (AFC) development and implementation) are Praveen Srivastava, principal wireless engineer II for Charter Communications, Inc.; Andrew Clegg, spectrum engineer lead for Google LLC; and Klaus Bender, VP-engineering for UTC.

The proposed leaders for the work stream 4 subgroup are Tim Harrington, CEO of the UWB Alliance, and Bob Weller, VP-spectrum policy for the National Association of Broadcasters.

The multi-stakeholder group plans to meet next on Oct. 30 from 2-4 p.m. eastern time. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation

NPSTC Asks FCC to Dismiss CTIA’s 911 Recon Petition

Credit: TR Daily

NPSTC Asks FCC to Dismiss CTIA’s 911 Recon Petition

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council asked the FCC today to dismiss a petition for reconsideration filed recently by CTIA asking the agency to reconsider its z-axis, or vertical, rules and deployment deadlines. The trade group cited testing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of technologies to be ready to meet the FCC-mandated location-accuracy metric (TR Daily, Sept. 29).

In its filing in PS docket 07-114, NPSTC rejected CTIA’s justifications for its petition and argued that “the only thing that may prevent the implementation of vertical location technologies in the largest 25 cities by the April 2021 deadline is the intransigence of the carriers in preventing the deployment of the z-axis technologies that have already been demonstrated to be compliant.”

CTIA filed a petition for reconsideration of a sixth report and order on reconsideration adopted in July (TR Daily, July 16). The item requires nationwide wireless carriers to deploy z-axis location-accuracy technology nationwide by April 2025, giving non-nationwide carriers an additional year to meet the mandate. It also affirmed a fifth report and order adopted last year that set a z-axis metric of plus or minus three meters relative to the handset for 80% of indoor calls (TR Daily, Nov. 22, 2019). The item required nationwide carriers to meet April 3, 2021, and April 3, 2023, milestones for complying with the metric in the top 25 and top 50 markets, respectively.

“Given the importance of highly accurate vertical location capabilities to rapidly locate and assist individuals in distress, the Commission should immediately dismiss the petition for reconsideration that was filed by CTIA (‘Petition’) as both untimely and relying on arguments that were fully considered and rejected by the Commission. The Petition is untimely because it seeks reconsideration of the timeline that the Commission adopted in 2015 for the implementation of wireless vertical location. CTIA acknowledges that the deadline predates the Sixth Report and Order, requesting reconsideration of ‘the timelines affirmed in the Sixth R&O,’” NPSTC said.

“The Petition should also be dismissed because it relies extensively on arguments that were fully considered and rejected by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order. For example, the Petition argues at length regarding the relative merits and availability of barometric pressure sensor-based solutions, the use of ‘push’ versus ‘over the top’ approaches to place those solutions in handsets, the adequacy of the Stage Z testbed results, the ongoing development of operating system (‘OS’)-based technologies by Google and Apple, and their proposal to extend the deployment timeline by an additional five years, permitting 50% accuracy in 2021 and 80% accuracy no sooner than 2025. Each of these issues was thoroughly considered and addressed by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order and do not merit reconsideration just six month[s] before the first implementation deadline,” NPSTC added.

“CTIA claims that its Petition merits consideration because ‘the gravity of Z-axis testing challenges has only become known since the Sixth R&O was adopted’ and therefore qualifies as an event that ‘occurred or circumstances which have changed since the last opportunity to present such matters to the Commission.’ CTIA acknowledges, however, that this assertion is not true. Prior to the adoption of the Sixth Report and Order, the carriers made it very clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting additional testing and those statements were quoted by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order. … Thus, CTIA’s cancellation of the Stage Zb testbed was both anticipated and irrelevant given the fact that only one vendor had expressed interest in participating,” NPSTC said.

“Instead, the only thing that may prevent the implementation of vertical location technologies in the largest 25 cities by the April 2021 deadline is the intransigence of the carriers in preventing the deployment of the z-axis technologies that have already been demonstrated to be compliant,” NPSTC added. “Several of NPSTC’s members served on CTIA’s Location Accuracy Quarterly Advisory Committee and observed firsthand the efforts of CTIA and its members to impose obstacles in the path of z-axis deployment.

“First, the industry abandoned the National Emergency Address Database along with the promise for dispatchable location in a reasonable time and now they want to delay the z-axis deadline,” the filing said. “The Commission should not permit the carriers to use the pandemic as a pretext to further this agenda. Instead, the Commission should continue its leadership in the pursuant of wireless location accuracy by immediately dismissing CTIA’s petition as untimely and devoid of new arguments. The Commission should also direct the carriers to finalize their implementation of those z-axis technologies by the April 2021 deadline that have already been demonstrated to be 3 meter compliant. The critical needs of public safety and the public that it serves, necessitates this decisive action.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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Public Safety Bureau Chief Bemoans 911 Fee Diversions

States that divert 911 fees from funding public safety access points (PSAPs) to other purposes are standing in the way of call centers carrying out their duties and implementing next generation 911 (NG-911) services, Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said today during an online Federal Communications Bar Association event.

“One of the biggest obstacles is 911 fee diversions,” Ms. Fowlkes said. “Look at it this way, if a state is collecting monies from 911 fees and they divert even a portion of that to somewhere else, that’s less money or your PSAPs. Whether you’re talking about next generation 911, or whether you’re talking about just repairing equipment or supporting 911 call center dispatchers, there’s been less money to do those things.”

The FCC continues to look for ways to stop 911 fee diversion, Ms. Fowlkes said, noting the Commission last month launched a notice of inquiry (PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14) soliciting comment on how states and U.S. territories diverting 911 fees for other purposes has affected the provision of 911 services (TR Daily, Sept. 30).

Ms. Fowlkes also pointed out the FCC has for the past 10 years delivered annual reports to Congress detailing how much money states take in from 911 fees and how much of that money is actually used for funding 911 services.

When the FCC adopted the NOI, FCC Chairman Pai cited FCC data showing that between 2012 and 2018, states diverted more than $1.275 billion in fees to non-911 programs or to their general funds.

Also of particular interest of late for the bureau, she said, is the FCC’s efforts to try to improve coordination between power companies and communications companies during emergencies, Ms. Fowlkes said.

“We’ve certainly encouraged, particularly the wireless industry and the electric power companies to come up with ways to facilitate coordination before, during, and after incidents,” she said.

The bureau also continues to work on “ways to support more enhanced geotargeting” for wireless emergency alert (WEA), she said.

Among other things, the FCC has received “positive responses” to a letter Mr. Pai sent last month to CTIA, Qualcomm, Inc., and ATIS seeking updates about various issues related to implementing enhanced geotargeting (TR Daily, Oct. 2).

Qualcomm responded that all of its 5G chipsets currently being sold, and that will be sold in the future, will support enhanced geotargeting, and ATIS said it is making progress on developing enhanced geotargeting standards. CTIA committed to providing an annual report on how many phones in the market are capable of supporting enhanced geotargeting.

Ms. Fowlkes noted the geotargeting rules do not require wireless carriers to replace or upgrade phones to be geotargeting-capable.

“As you get more churn in terms of phones, it is hoped that there will be more phones out there” that support enhanced geotargeting requirements, she said. —Jeff Williams

FCC FederalNews PublicSafety

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DHS Threat Assessment Warns About Russia, China

A “Homeland Threat Assessment” released today by the Department of Homeland Security places Russia atop the cybersecurity and foreign influence threats faced by the U.S.

“Russia—which possesses some of the most sophisticated cyber capabilities in the world—can disrupt or damage U.S. critical infrastructure networks via cyber-attacks,” it said. “Russia probably can conduct cyber attacks that would result in at least localized effects over hours to days and probably is developing capabilities that would cause more debilitating effects.”

But in his personal message introducing the report, Chad Wolf, DHS’s acting secretary, emphasized the threat of Chinese cyber attacks and propaganda. The Trump administration has sought to portray China as a cyber threat equivalent to Russia—a viewpoint that has provoked debate among national security experts not affiliated with the administration who place China’s economic espionage in a different category from the Russian threat to critical infrastructure and U.S. elections.

A DHS whistleblower recently claimed he was demoted for objecting to the administration’s attempts to downplay the Russian threat to U.S. elections (TR Daily,Sept. 9).

“While Russia has been a persistent threat by attempting to harm our democratic and election systems, it is clear China and Iran also pose threats in this space,” Mr. Wolf said. “Nation-states like China, Russia, and Iran will try to use cyber capabilities or foreign influence to compromise or disrupt infrastructure related to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, aggravate social and racial tensions, undermine trust in U.S. authorities, and criticize our elected officials.”

The threat assessment issued today is the first for DHS and is designed to “provide the American people with an overview of the information collected and analyzed by DHS employees around the world,” it said. “This inaugural HTA presents a holistic look from across the department and provides the American people with the most complete, transparent, and candid look at the threats facing our homeland.” —Tom Leithauser, tom.leithauser@wolterskluwer.com

FCC’s 4.9 GHz Band Regime Modified Over Dem, Public Safety Objections

Credit: TR Daily

FCC’s 4.9 GHz Band Regime Modified Over Dem, Public Safety Objections

The FCC voted 3-2 today to modify its framework for the 4940-4990 megahertz band over the objections of Democratic Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel and public safety entities, which complained that the new regime would hinder the ability of first responders to use the frequencies. A dozen public safety groups had asked Mr. Pai to pull the item from today’s agenda (TR Daily, Sept. 21), and one of the groups said it would challenge the item adopted today.

“In the 18 years since the FCC designated the 4.9 GHz band for public safety use, only about 3.5% of all potential licensees have taken advantage of this spectrum opportunity, and this spectrum remains largely unused outside major metropolitan areas,” an FCC news release said on adoption of a report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking in WP docket 07-100 at today’s monthly meeting. “The rules adopted today establish a new framework that will empower eligible states to put 4.9 GHz band spectrum to its highest and best use and to allow new partnerships with electric utilities, FirstNet, and commercial operators to increase usage of this spectrum, while protecting existing public safety operations. And by expanding use of the 4.9 GHz band, the rules will facilitate the development of a more robust equipment market for the band, addressing a problem that to date hampered efforts to deploy service in the band.”

The order “permits one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties — including commercial and public safety users — in those states that the FCC has not identified as a diverter of 911 fees. The Report and Order does not limit or modify the rights of any incumbent public safety licensees, so they will be able to continue to provide existing services. These new rules also eliminate the requirement that leased spectrum must be used to support public safety but would require lessees to adhere to the informal coordination requirements applicable to the band,” the news release added.

“The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also adopted today proposes a new state-based licensing regime for public safety operations in the band, which would complement the new leasing regime,” the news release continued. “The Further Notice proposes to make permanent the current freeze on new applications and grandfather all current public safety licensees. It also proposes to allow states without a statewide license to obtain such a license and seeks comment on the creation of a voluntary state band manager to coordinate operations in the band. Lastly, it seeks comment on additional ways to implement and facilitate robust use of the band, including steps to address expanded access in states that divert 911 fees, the use of dynamic spectrum sharing, and ways to encourage collaboration across jurisdictions.”

In 2018, the Commission unanimously adopted a sixth further notice seeking views on ways to promote more intensive use of the 4.9 gigahertz band (TR Daily, March 22, 2018). Republican Commissioners then emphasized the potential benefit of repurposing the band for commercial purposes, or at least opening it up to additional usage, citing the fact that the spectrum had not been heavily used since the Commission made it available for public safety agencies in 2002.

In response to the 2018 item, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council expressed support for sharing the band with critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities and opposed reallocating and auctioning the spectrum for commercial use (TR Daily, July 9, 2018). A number of utility trade groups expressed support for a band plan submitted by NPSTC and emphasized their members’ need for additional spectrum.

In their dissenting statements today, Commissioners Starks and Rosenworcel complained that the FCC’s action would harm public safety agencies at a time when they are facing multiple challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, protests, wildfires, and hurricanes and tropical storms.

“At a time when our public safety organizations are stretched to the limit and their communications needs are increasing, the Commission is adopting with no notice and comment an approach that is not only unwanted but runs contrary to years of public safety spectrum policy,” Mr. Starks said. “Since this proceeding first began, the FCC has considered many different options to increase spectrum usage in the 4.9 GHz band while protecting critical public safety operations. It’s black letter law that agencies must provide adequate notice and an opportunity to comment before adopting a rule. But at no point have we ever proposed effectively delegating the Commission’s spectrum authority over the band to state governments. I therefore already had serious concerns about whether the draft order circulated three weeks ago satisfied the Administrative Procedures Act. If the original draft put us on the edge of a precipice, the current one drives us off the cliff. The final Report and Order now disqualifies states from participating in the State Lessor model if they engage in ‘911 fee diversion,’ a concept that another item on today’s agenda frames for debate [see separate story]. This proceeding has never sought comment on that issue or anything like it, and there is no way that commenting parties, and the governments, public safety organizations and citizens that will be adversely impacted, would have reasonably known to comment on the idea. This approach is facially deficient as a matter of administrative law.

“Beyond serious procedural flaws, this decision is likely to have serious policy consequences,” Mr. Starks added. “By pushing management of the 4.9 GHz band to the states, the majority risks creating dozens of inconsistent approaches to this valuable spectrum resource. States have vastly different interests and levels of spectrum expertise and will undoubtedly take different approaches to issues like interoperability, security, and interference protection. As a result, public safety usage of the 4.9 GHz band may actually become less efficient, secure, and reliable — even as commercial interest remains meager at best. I recognize that the 4.9 GHz band presents a difficult challenge. But I wish that we had withdrawn this item to work on fully addressing the public safety community’s concerns. This isn’t the moment to take chances with critical public safety spectrum.”

“This decision is unfortunate,” said Ms. Rosenworcel. “It is not the right way forward for the 4.9 GHz band. It is a slapdash effort to try to foster use of this spectrum by giving states the right to divert public safety communications in exchange for revenue. This approach has virtually no support in the record. However, it does have opposition from a wide range of stakeholders from wireless carriers to public safety officials.”

Ms. Rosenworcel noted that “relatively few” of the 90,000 public safety licensees that are eligible to obtain 4.9 GHz band licenses have done so. “That’s because there is a limited vendor ecosystem supporting this band, so it is hard to acquire equipment and costly to deploy it.  As a result, for the past few years the Federal Communications Commission has sought comment on how to help public safety make use of these airwaves and what more can be done to encourage a robust market for equipment,” she added.

“In this decision we abandon this course and decide that these airwaves no longer need to support public safety. We clear the way to kick first responders off this spectrum and then cede this agency’s authority over the band to state licensees who will be empowered to lease these airwaves to third parties to generate revenue. This adds up to a reduction in public safety communications with a more fragmented market for equipment and a 5G future with a whole bunch of the same problems we had with leases in the 2.5 GHz band that — remember — we went to great efforts to dismantle in the not-too-distant past,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “What a mess. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a reason so many entities have come together to oppose this reorganization of the 4.9 GHz band.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his Republican colleagues defended the actions that he and his Republican colleagues took today.

For example, in response to a question during a call with reporters after the meeting, Mr. Pai said that “we are confident we provided adequate notice consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

In his written statement on the item, he said, “The Commission’s rules siloed this spectrum, which led to a limited amount of niche, expensive equipment available for use in the band. The story of the 4.9 GHz band became one of spectrum haves — primarily in large cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle — and have nots — namely, the 96.5% of potential licensees that have not obtained licenses for 4.9 GHz spectrum, particularly the smaller and rural jurisdictions that cannot afford to deploy in the band.

“Half a decade later, this unacceptable state of affairs persists,” he said. “The 4.9 GHz band remains valuable spectrum — and it remains underused and in regulatory limbo. To maximize the value of this public resource for the American people, today we revise our rules by empowering eligible states to put the 4.9 GHz band to its highest and best uses. We will harness the power of our Secondary Markets framework to create leasing opportunities for statewide entities in states that do not divert 911 fees for non-911 purposes.

“Under our new approach, we will allow a single state government entity to lease covered spectrum in this band while maintaining and protecting incumbent public safety licensees’ operations. We recognize the simple truth that what works for New York City may not make sense in rural West Virginia; therefore, we give lessors the right to choose what is best for citizens of their state: They can enter into leases with public safety and non-public safety entities alike. If an eligible state wants to lease its spectrum to FirstNet for use in its Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, it can do so. If it wants to lease the spectrum to a commercial entity to use for deploying a dedicated public safety broadband network, it can do that. If the state wants to lease spectrum in less densely populated areas to a wireless Internet service provider, an electric utility, or another critical infrastructure industry (or a mix of all three) and retain the spectrum in more densely populated areas, it can do that too.”

“The approach we adopt today may not be perfect. But it’s better than any of the alternatives that have been proposed,” Mr. Pai added. “And one thing we know for sure is that regulatory inertia is not the best option. The 4.9 GHz band is well-suited to meet the nation’s growing demand for mid-band spectrum, and this Commission will not stand idly by and let this spectrum continue to largely lie fallow. Leasing arrangements will create significant opportunities for commercial access while protecting incumbent public safety operations and generating substantial potential revenues that states can use to strengthen public safety services. Our flexible, forward-thinking framework represents the most viable path for making this public resource an actual resource for the public.”

“The underlying premise of the item before us is incredibly sound,” Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said. “The 4.9 GHz band is vastly underutilized — and not just by a little bit. Seeking to produce greater efficiency and increase the uses of 50 megahertz of spectrum, at a time when the premium for spectrum is at an all-time high, shouldn’t be controversial. And, this scarcity is precisely why the Commission must take action as soon as possible, not only on this band and the 3.1-3.55 GHz frequencies considered today [see separate story], but also on the 5.9 GHz band.

“While I certainly respect and support our public safety officials and truly appreciate all that they do to protect our communities, no Commission should let spectrum essentially lay fallow based on the notion that someday the allocation just might, possibly be widely used for its intended purposes,” he added. “The messages of ‘we intend to use it if certain conditions are met’ or ‘it’ll be needed someday’ are no longer credible or sufficient.”

“My first action when this item was circulated was to request a reversal of course and seek full commercialization of the band, while protecting existing incumbent systems,” Mr. O’Rielly continued. “That is consistent with my approach to the NPRM and is driven by the fact that every expert admits that the U.S. must free more spectrum to meet the demand for future commercial wireless services. While this spectrum may not be an ideal 5G band on its own, it has been identified by the wireless industry as a very good candidate for that purpose if the Commission takes certain actions. Sadly, my request didn’t win the day with my colleagues.

“Compelled to pivot, I have tried to live within the rather, let’s say, interesting approach taken in this item. I do have some concerns that this will just create another EBS [educational broadband service]-like mess, kicking the proverbial can and forcing a future Commission to revisit this whole structure,” the Commissioner said. “It is not entirely clear how or whether it will work at all, as proposed. There is also the distinct possibility that this item won’t necessarily solve anything, but instead may even prolong uncertainty. I am able to support the item, however, because, at the very least, it moves away from the status quo towards somewhat improved usage and commercialization of the band. Moreover, the modified version excludes states that are diverting 9-1-1 fees to other purposes from reaping any benefits from this spectrum largesse — such as New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and certain counties in Nevada.”

“In the end, we will just have to wait and see if any of the item’s structure gains traction or survives future policymakers’ second guessing. Having extensive experience on these matters, I’m a bit skeptical that will be the case,” Mr. O’Rielly said.

“For nearly two decades, the FCC has designated this 50 MHz swath of spectrum for public safety use. And yet after all this time, by our count, only about two percent of eligible public safety entities have become licensees. There are many causes for this underinvestment; availability and cost of equipment, scale, and an inefficient sharing regime are just a few,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said.

“The status quo isn’t working. So today we set out to fix these problems for the benefit of states and public safety officials alike,” he added. “We do so by empowering local leaders — not those of us sitting here in Washington — to determine the highest and best use of this spectrum based on those elected officials’ own assessments of local needs. They can keep using this spectrum for public safety (and do so more efficiently due to the new rules we put in place), or they can lease these airwaves and use the revenue to fund public safety or other mission critical initiatives. They have the choice, and I trust them to make the right call for their communities. … If there ever were a time for our agency to give public safety a hand, to get rid of some old rules, to open a path for funding, now would be that time. So we take that step today and empower our country’s local leaders to determine how best to use this spectrum.”

Mr. Carr was asked on a call with reporters after the meeting why he kept referring to local leaders when, in fact, states will make decisions about the spectrum. He said he refers to state and local leaders as one category, as opposed to federal leaders.

A dozen of public safety groups had asked Mr. Pai to pull the item from today’s meeting agenda. AT&T, Inc., which is the First Responder Network Authority’s network partner, also expressed opposition to the item, while Verizon Communications, Inc., said it opposed assigning the spectrum to FirstNet. T-Mobile US, Inc., said the FCC should seek comment on whether public safety licensees should be able to sell spectrum rights to non-public safety entities.

In a joint statement today, 11 public safety groups criticized the FCC’s action.

“The majority, consisting of Chairman Pai and Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr, took this action against the wishes of a multitude of national public safety associations,” they said. “Prior to today’s order, the FCC’s rules hamstrung public safety from making the best use of this important spectrum band. For years, public safety repeatedly offered specific proposals to the FCC to improve these rules so that law enforcement, fire, EMS, and 9-1-1 professionals could benefit from the multitude of broadband applications this band would make possible. Instead of granting these requested rule changes, the majority continued a false narrative that public safety is to blame for any underutilization and ignored public safety’s needs in an attempt to benefit commercial users. Further, the FCC took this action while failing to provide sufficient notice of its actions. With public safety professionals facing unprecedented national emergencies and natural disasters, the timing of the majority’s action is especially unfortunate and misguided.”

Signing onto the filing were the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Association of State EMS Officials, NPSTC, National Sheriffs’ Association, and Western Fire Chiefs Association.

In a separate statement, NPSTC said that it “is disappointed that the FCC did not follow the recommendations we made for 4.9 GHz. The NPSTC proposal would have resulted in a complete database of current and future use, implemented nationwide frequency coordination to prevent uncertainty due to interference, allowed for some dedicated uses like robotics, and opened use of the band to critical infrastructure organizations. This would have assured that the band would serve the needs of public safety well into the future. Under the FCC’s plan, there is no certainty that public safety needs will be met, based on the decisions made in each state. The plan promotes a profit motive at each state rather than assuring adequate public safety access to the band. The marketplace model simply does not work for public safety which is a government responsibility even if it operates at a net loss. We do strongly support the 911 fee diversion language and recognize the efforts of Commissioner [O’Rielly] to bring action on this issue. We look forward to providing comments to the further notice.”

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance, which has argued that the FCC should assign the 4.9 GHz band public safety spectrum to FirstNet, said that it would not give up.

“We are extremely disappointed by the FCC’s action that jeopardizes public safety’s access to spectrum critical to life-saving operations. Today’s action by the FCC shows clearly that commercial interests won out at public safety’s expense,” said Jeff Johnson, a PSSA leader who is chief executive officer of the WFCA and former vice chairman of FirstNet. “This spectrum was allocated by the FCC to public safety after 9/11 to be part of the interoperability solution for first responders. When will our government authorities put the interests and safety of public safety and the communities they serve ahead of commercial interests? The FCC itself has acknowledged, the 4.9 GHz band has been under-utilized because of the FCC’s complicated rules and the narrow use cases envisioned by the FCC in 2002. And yet today they take this action when the record does not support such an action as was pointed out by Commissioner Rosenworcel.”

“Our legal counsel is preparing a list of options for consideration,” added Chris Moore, another PSSA leader who is a former San Jose police chief and now a principal at Brooks Bawden Moore LLC. “Once we have reviewed these options, we will quickly move forward and take action to seek reversal of this clearly arbitrary and harmful decision. We would also like to publicly thank those commissioners that voted against this ill-conceived plan.”

“The nation’s fire chiefs are disappointed in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to license dedicated public safety spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band to the states” Kenneth Stuebing, first vice president of the IAFC, said in a separate statement. “This spectrum is used for critical fire and EMS operations across the nation. We urge the FCC to ensure that the states protect incumbent public safety users as it begins the process of granting these licenses. Also, we recommend that state fire chiefs organizations contact their state governors’ offices to protect this spectrum for public safety use.”

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive vice president-regulatory & state external affairs, said, “The 4.9 GHz band, while currently under-utilized, contains enormous potential to provide more expansive support of public safety communications. Informal coordination requirements have limited the spectrum band’s usage to date, and we appreciate the FCC’s efforts to consider ways to expand its use while ensuring the spectrum remains allocated to public safety. As the Commission moves forward, we will continue to support licensing rules that drive toward more efficient nationwide coordination and more effective use of this spectrum by public safety entities across the U.S.”

Louis Peraertz, VP-policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said that his group supports the 4.9 GHz band item.

“Opening the 4.9 GHz band to a much wider range of non-public safety uses is a very positive step forward,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Futures Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “It is extremely underutilized. At the same time, the unexpected conditions on state eligibility and the undeveloped nature of the process for sharing the band suggest that the Commission has far more work to do before there is a final resolution on how best to encourage more intensive and productive use of the band.”

“As our nation’s electric, gas, and water utilities modernize their infrastructure, access to spectrum is critical to ensure the continued safe, reliable and secure delivery of essential energy and water services,” said Sheryl Riggs, president and CEO of the Utilities Technology Council. “Utility communications systems underpin the reliable, resilient operation of essential electric, gas, and water services, and UTC looks forward to working with states to explore opportunities for utilities to access spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band.”

States did not weigh in on the item before its adoption. The National Governors Association said today that it had no comment. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC FederalNews PublicSafety WirelessDeployment SpectrumAllocation

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FCC NOI Focuses on Stopping 911 Fee Diversion

The FCC today launched a notice of inquiry in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14 soliciting comment on how states and U.S. territories diverting 911 fees for other purposes has affected the provision of 911 services.

“In today’s notice of inquiry, we’re continuing to do our part to address the problem of 911 fee diversion,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the Commission’s monthly meeting, which was held virtually. “And if we can find a way to end this practice once and for all, we will improve our nation’s 911 system, keep America safe, and do the right thing by America’s first responders.”

Mr. Pai cited FCC data showing that between 2012 and 2018, states diverted more than $1.275 billion in fees to non-911 programs or to their general funds.

Mr. Pai called it “outrageous” and “unacceptable” for states to divert 911 funds.

Diverting 911 fees is “fraud,” Mr. Pai said, adding: “The government takes money from consumers with the promise it will be spent on improving our nation’s 911 system and spends it on something else. And this fraudulent practice has real-life consequences.”

The Commission is asking for comment on what regulatory steps it could take to deter the practice, such as “limiting the availability of FCC licenses and other benefits based on fee diversion or using the Commission’s truth-in-billing authority to increase consumer awareness of fee diversion where it occurs.”

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has for years called upon states to stop the practice, said he is “hopeful that today’s NOI will continue the positive momentum needed to finish the project and reduce the number of diverters to zero.”

Mr. O’Rielly was sharply critical of states for diverting 911 fees instead of otherwise cutting spending or raising other taxes to meet their funding needs.

“What is unconscionable, even shameful, is that certain states hide behind labels like ‘public safety’ to dupe consumers and shortchange 911 call centers,” he said.

Mr. O’Rielly said the “vast majority” of states have decided to end the practice, but New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Nevada “remain unapologetically” on the list of states that continue to divert 911 funds.

“While we have had some success shrinking the number of diverters, more work remains,” he said, adding: “Diverters are already statutorily barred from receiving federal NextGen911 grants, and I expect that Congress may need to provide even stronger statutory tools for the Commission to finally address the remaining diverters and prevent this horrendous practice in the future.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who credited Mr. O’Rielly for pressing the issue, said she was pleased to see the FCC adopt the NOI in hopes of eventually ending 911 fee diversions.

“It’s not acceptable when states allow a line item on communications bills that expressly says it is for 911 service but then turn around and send those fees elsewhere,” she said.

The NOI asks “appropriate questions about the boundaries of this agency’s authority and seeks ideas regarding the steps we can take to improve our annual fee diversion reports and put the pressure on to end this ugly practice altogether,” Ms. Rosenworcel said.

Commissioner Brendan Carr, who credited Mr. O’Rielly for conducting a “shame campaign” to highlight states that have diverted 911 funding, said he is “glad we’re pressing forward” with the NOI.

“It is truly a shame that some of those resources that are identified and needed [for 911 service] are being diverted,” Mr. Carr said.

In a press release, CTIA praised the FCC for adopting the NOI.

“State governments erode public trust and safety when they divert millions of dollars collected from wireless consumers intended to maintain and enhance our nation’s 911 system,” CTIA Vice President-regulatory affairs Matt Gerst said in a press release. “We look forward to working with the FCC to identify new ways to address the problem.”

NENA also commended the FCC for taking the action.

“Fee diversion continues to damage 911’s reputation and puts lives at risk,” NENA Director-government affairs Dan Henry said in a press release. “We appreciate the Commission’s willingness to tackle this challenging issue, and look forward to contributing our perspective to the proceeding.”—Jeff Williams

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NPSTC Criticizes CTIA’s 911 Location-Accuracy Petition

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council has criticized CTIA’s petition for reconsideration asking the FCC to reconsider its 911 z-axis, or vertical, rules and deployment timelines. The trade group made the request in a petition for reconsideration that cited testing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of technologies to be ready to meet the FCC-mandated location-accuracy metric (TR Daily, Sept. 29). “NPSTC is disappointed that CTIA and the wireless carriers are again trying to delay implementation of the roadmap for location services initiated in 2014,” NPSTC Chair Ralph Haller said in a statement. “CTIA states in its petition for reconsideration that, ‘wireless providers are delivering increasingly accurate location information with wireless 9-1-1 calls.’ While that assertion is debatable, even if somewhat true, the carriers have had six years fully to meet the z axis requirements. The FCC should reject this CTIA petition for reconsideration, retain the April 3, 2021, deadline, and initiate enforcement actions for carriers not meeting the 2021 requirements. This is a life and death issue that has already taken too long to implement.”

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FirstNet Charts Course Through Road Map 

As it turns the page to a new fiscal year, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) today highlighted the progress made toward meeting the authority’s goals of improving public safety communications and the need to continue following the road map charting its future course.  

“In the upcoming fiscal year, in addition to ensuring that our program remains on schedule and on cost, the board will focus on the roadmap developed in close consultation with the public safety community,” FirstNet Chairman Robert Tipton (Tip) Osterthaler said during a virtual meeting of the FirstNet board and its committees. “We’ll also continue to listen to FirstNet users as their needs evolve, updating the roadmap accordingly.” 

FirstNet continues to play a key role for the first responder community, Mr. Osterthaler said.  

“In my view, it would be hard to overstate the importance of secure, mobile broadband access for law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, and all of those people and organizations that support and enable them,” he said. 

The board continues to work on updating the technology and applications available to FirstNet users, Mr. Osterthaler said. 

FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson also credited FirstNet for working to “ensure that we don’t skip a beat” during the challenges posed by conducting business during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This really echoes the sentiment that we will always be there for public safety and our people have been able to support the authority throughout these past six months,” he said. “We’re meeting public safety where they are to ensure that we continue to gather the invaluable feedback to advance our roadmap, which will further guide our programs, activities, and investments.” 

In addition to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstNet continues to adapt based on lessons learned from other public safety events, such as the recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and the wildfires in the western part of the U.S., he said. 

“Our culture at FirstNet is to listen, learn, and evolve,” Mr. Parkinson said. “We’re constantly striving to improve and to do things better. Ultimately, lives depend on our ability to get the job done.”  

Dave Buchanan, FirstNet’s executive director-public advocacy, noted the amount of outreach that has gone on between FirstNet and the public safety community, including engagements with about 12,000 public safety stakeholders.  

“We continue to keep up the drumbeat, even under the unusual circumstances of (fiscal year 2020) of making sure we’re reaching public safety across the country,” Mr. Buchanan said.  

Among other things, he said, FirstNet has increased its use of webinars in recent months, including 19 events in the past 12 weeks attended by 1,262 public safety professionals. 

All of the events have provided feedback FirstNet is using to create improvements for users, Mr. Buchanan said.  

FirstNet has also been collecting data to be used as FirstNet continues along its road map, including conducting surveys to solicit public safety feedback on various topics, holding one-on-one discussions, and convening focus groups, he said.  

Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet’s chief technology and operations officer, highlighted several areas of progress, including work on ensuring that public safety needs are included in global standards being developed through 3GPP. 

In particular, he noted the completion of 3GPP Release 15 dealing with push-to-talk communications, as well as vehicle-to-everything 5G technologies.  

In addition, work on Release 17 is in “full swing,” with a target completion date of December 2021, he said.  

FirstNet is focused on that release’s items related to enhancements to the “building blocks for mission critical services” using 5G, additional device-to-device standards, enhanced location-based services, and non-terrestrial network support, Mr. Bratcher said.  

In addition, he noted, there are now more than 200 products available for use on the FirstNet network, with 159 of those Band 14-capable, he said. 

FirstNet is delivering on the “broad, diverse range of devices” public safety interests have been asking for, Mr. Bratcher said.  

“I think we’ve exceeded this objective and goal,” he said. 

There are also now more than 100 applications available that can be used with the network, Mr. Bratcher said. 

During the meeting, the board adopted an amendment to its bylaws to allow the board chair to designate another board member to serve as the chair of the Governance and Personnel Committee. Before the change was made, the bylaws required that the board chair serve as the chair of that committee. —Jeff Williams