ARRL Praises Inclusion of Amateur Radio Bill in NDAA

The American Radio Relay League praised lawmakers today for adding the language of the Amateur Radio Parity Act (HR 555) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 (HR 5515), which was approved by the House Armed Services Committee after a marathon markup Wednesday. The measure would permit amateur radio operators to install an outdoor antenna at their residences with the approval of their homeowners’ association. An amendment  with the language from HR 555 was offered by Reps. Joe Courtney (D., Conn.), Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.) and Mike Rogers (R., Ala.) and approved by voice vote. The Amateur Radio Parity Act has passed the House twice in the past two years. – Courtesy TR Daily

Wyden Asks FCC to Probe Location Information Tracking

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) has asked the FCC to probe the tracking of cellphone customers’ location information by law enforcement officials who access the data from Securus Technologies, Inc., which provides inmate calling services (ICS) to correctional facilities. The senator also wrote major wireless carriers to get information on their practices for selling customers’ location information to other parties.

“I recently learned that Securus Technologies, a major provider of correctional-facility telephone services, purchases real-time location information from major wireless carriers and provides the information, via a self-service web portal, for nothing more than the legal equivalent of a pinky promise,” Mr. Wyden wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This practice skirts wireless [carriers’] legal obligation to be the sole conduit by which the government conducts surveillance of Americans’ phone records, and needlessly exposes millions of Americans to potential abuse and surveillance by the government.”

The senator added that top Securus officials “confirmed to my office that Securus takes no steps to verify that uploaded documents in fact provide judicial authorization for real-time location surveillance, or conduct any review of surveillance requests. Securus claimed, incorrectly, that correctional facilities, not Securus, must ensure that correctional officers don’t misuse the web portal.”

“It is incredibly troubling that Securus provides location data to the government at all — let alone that it does so without a verified court order or other legal process,” Mr. Wyden wrote. “This clear abuse is only possible because wireless carriers sell their customers’ private information to companies claiming to have consumer consent without sufficiently verifying those claims.”

Mr. Wyden asked the FCC to “promptly investigate Securus, the wireless carriers’ failure to maintain exclusive control over law enforcement access to their customers’ location data, and also conduct a broad investigation into what demonstration of customer consent, if any, each wireless carrier requires from other companies before the carriers provide them with customer location information and other data.”

The senator also wrote major wireless carriers to ask them if they have any safeguards to prevent the sale of location information without the consent of customers, what companies they sell such data to, what type of information they sell, and what proof of customer consent parties provide. He also asked for details on incidents where carriers have found companies misusing customer information.

Mr. Wyden also asked carriers to undertake an audit of each third party that gets information from the carriers to determine how the party uses the information and ensure that customers have agreed to have that information disclosed. Carriers should “notify customers whose location information you disclosed without their consent,” Mr. Wyden said. Carriers also should terminate agreements with parties that have mishandled customer information and launch web portals so customers can see which parties their information is shared with, the senator added.

In the letter to the carriers, Mr. Wyden said Securus told his office “that it purchases real-time location information … through a third party location aggregator that has a commercial relationship with the major wireless carriers — and routinely shares that information with its government clients. Correctional officers simply visit Securus’ web portal, enter any U.S. phone number, and then upload a document purporting to be an ‘official document giving permission’ to obtain real-time location data.”

Securus did not respond to a request for comment today.

An FCC spokesman said the agency has received Mr. Wyden’s letter and is reviewing it.

In response to Mr. Wyden’s letter, Sprint Corp. said in a statement, “Protecting our customers’ privacy and security is a top priority, and we are transparent about our Privacy Policy. To be clear, we do not share or sell consumers’ sensitive information to third parties. We share personally identifiable geo-location information only with customer consent or in response to a lawful request such as a validated court order from law enforcement. We will answer the questions raised in Sen. Wyden’s letter directly through appropriate channels. However, it is important to note that Sprint’s relationship with Securus does not include data sharing, and is limited to supporting efforts to curb unlawful use of contraband cellphones in correctional facilities.”

AT&T, Inc., said, “We have a best practices approach to handling our customers’ data. We are aware of the letter and will provide a response.”

“We’re still trying to verify, but if this company is, in fact, doing this with our customers’ data, we will take steps to stop it,” said Verizon Communications, Inc.

T-Mobile US, Inc., said, “We take the privacy and security of our customers’ data very seriously. We received Senator Wyden’s letter and are thoroughly investigating the issues he raises. As always, if we were to find any misuse of our customers’ data, we would take appropriate action.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC Releases Corrected Version of Order

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced today that it has replaced the version of a second report and order and order on reconsideration released in February that amended and clarified the agency’s 700 megahertz band interoperability and technical rules (TR Daily, Feb. 12). The bureau said in an erratum that an incorrect version of the item was released in PS dockets 13-87 and 06-229 and WT docket 96-86. – Courtesy TR Daily

FCC Announces Agenda for Alerting Roundtable

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau today announced the agenda for a workshop on emergency alerting that is scheduled for next Tuesday. The event is scheduled to run from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will deliver opening remarks, and two panels will focus on (1) the benefits of training and best practices for testing, and (2) coordination and partnerships. – Courtesy TR Daily 

O’Rielly: Congressional Action on 911 Fees Would Help

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly says that while the FCC is “having some success” in getting states to stop engaging in 911 fee diversion, legislative action by Congress to address the issue would be helpful.

Commissioner O’Rielly was responding to a question about the extent of the FCC’s legal authority to address the issue during a panel session with fellow Commissioner Brendan Carr at a Federal Communications Bar Association seminar here on Saturday.  Commissioner O’Rielly recently sought and received assurances from the governor of Puerto Rico that the territory will not divert future 911 fees for non-911 purposes before the commissioner voted to allocate $750 million in universal service funding to support the restoration and expansion of communications networks in Puerto Rico (TR Daily, May 4).

Asked by moderator Scott Blake Harris, chairman of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, whether Commissioners hear different things from stakeholders when they travel around the country than they do in Washington, Commissioner Carr said, “We get to see both sides of the digital divide.”  He recalled meeting “farmers with coffee mugs full of USB drives” that they use to download data from drones because the drones can’t get a wireless connection to the Internet during their daily travels across the farmers’ acreage.

In response to a question about 5G wireless deployment, Mr. Carr emphasized that beyond spectrum and wireless facilities, an “important third piece is having a skilled workforce not only to deploy these networks” but to make use of the networks.  He added that while large companies may be able to “self-provision” training workers in these skills, it’s important to think about “reorienting” Department of Labor programs to support medium and small companies in worker training.

Mr. Harris asked whether the FCC’s enforcement process is “as effective as it should be.”

Commissioner Carr said, “I think we’re really heading in a good direction on the Enforcement Bureau and the leadership we have under Rosemary [Harold, the bureau chief].”  He added that robocalling and pirate radio have been “elevated” as enforcement priorities, while the agency is “reorienting away from seeking headlines” by issuing attention-grabbing large fines.

Mr. Harris asked whether the greater public prominence of FCC issues which has burned FCC Commissioners into “public personalities in ways they weren’t before” has had an impact on the agency’s decision-making process.

“I am more noticeable than I used to be,” Commissioner O’Rielly acknowledged, noting that comedian “John Oliver … called me the most boring man in America.”  He said that he had recently been recognized by a member of the general public at an airport.  However, he said, “I really try to stay grounded in the issues.”  Still, the public prominence can help in trying “to move issues in the right direction,” he said.

Commissioner Carr said that “a lot” of the debate over net neutrality has moved “the wide grounds [where] reasonable minds [can] disagree,” adding, “I think every member of the Commission has received death threats over that.”

“I think some of the characterization that we saw out there didn’t do the issue credit, didn’t do the American public credit,” Mr. Carr said.

From the audience, Julie Kearney, vice president–regulatory affairs for the Consumer Technology Association, asked what advice they would offer the yet-to-be-nominated individual who will take Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn’s place on the FCC.

“I look forward to get to know that individual,” said Commissioner O’Rielly.  “If I’ve done something they think is wrong, come and talk to me about it,” he continued, adding, “My family was always don’t stab me in the back, stab me in the front.”

Commissioner Carr said that Commissioner Clyburn is going to be hard to replace, praising how she would be ready to discuss each new issue, despite what disagreements might have occurred on the last decision, and “not just go to corners on every issue.” —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

 

Public Safety Advocate: Public/Private Partnerships

Before FirstNet, those in the public safety community who were working toward the goal of a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) understood that even if Congress was convinced to offer up the additional 10 MHz of 700-MHz spectrum known then as the D-Block, and even if it reached deep into the government’s pocket and came up with $billions to fund the build-out and operation of the network, the public safety community was not capable of putting together a nationwide network. Nor was the federal government based on the failure a number of years ago of the nationwide Land Mobile Radio Network that was designed to bring together all the federal agencies that used LMR. That network, known as iWIN, was bid and rebid and failed to be built except for a portion in the Northwest.

The decision to ask Congress to form a public/private partnership between the federal government and a private company to build the FirstNet network seemed to be the answer to this dilemma. This would be the largest public/private partnership ever attempted and some predicted it would fail. In spite of that, the project moved ahead and instead of Congress putting in all the funds, it settled on a starter fund of $7 billion, which sounds like a lot of money. However, when the dust settles on FirstNet’s first five years of build-out, the cost of the network will be in the $30 or $40-billion range. Further, in order to avoid using federal funds for this starter kit, Congress elected to take the seed money from the next spectrum auction so it would not impact, in any way, our national debt, and citizens who did not agree with the concept would not be able to accuse Congress of using tax dollars for this project.

FirstNet was created in February of 2012 and it took until 2017 for a bidder to be accepted and to get the project off the ground. The best news for public safety was that when the bid was awarded to AT&T, it announced it would not merely build out yet another network using only the FirstNet spectrum, which would take years to complete. AT&T was ready to make all of its LTE spectrum available to agencies in any state that opted into the project. By the end of 2017, that included 100-percent of the states, plus Washington DC, and the six territories.

Today, the network is in use,FirstNet built by AT&T has signed up more than 650 agencies in 48 states and six territories, and the build-out of Band 14 (FirstNet’s spectrum) has begun in earnest, only a year after AT&T became the winning bidder. In the days before FirstNet, no one would have thought FirstNet, complete with priority, pre-emption, and its own Evolved Packet Core (EPC) would have been this successful and in operation this quickly after the bid award. AT&T’s vision to use its own spectrum and to build out Band 14 over time, and to add public safety-grade functions over time, makes a lot of sense and is providing great value to the public safety community right now along with the ability for agencies on board to learn, experiment, and help develop the applications needed in the field.

Public-Private Partnerships

FirstNet (built by AT&T) and the FirstNet Authority (reporting to the NTIA) have worked through a number of issues and are now working well together. It should also be noted that FirstNet (built by AT&T) is also making use of rural network operators as required in the agreement and has entered into agreements or partnerships with a multiplicity of other vendors. It is a shame that on the federal government side the only partnership is with AT&T. What do I mean by that? I am talking about parlaying what FirstNet (AT&T) is doing, and the requirements to cover rural areas as quickly as metro and suburban areas. The federal government has not reached out to other agencies including its own (NTIA) to add partners to the mix for rural broadband.

Rural Broadband Gaining National Attention

Rather than extended partnerships, FirstNet continues to be going it alone, even though several sources of government assistance are available. The FCC has its Lifeline funding program for poverty and rural broadband and its Connect America fund, the NTIA has a multiplicity of grants for rural broadband under its BroadbandUSA organization, and the Farm Bureau offers grants as do other agencies. However, as I wrote in a previous Advocate, rural broadband is like a headless horseman. There are legs under it, there is bulk to it from multiple agencies, and Congress has a number of bills in process to augment it. Some states have taken over the idea of working with rural areas since the feds are so disorganized but the fact remains that there is no coordination or master plan.

Plans and Management Are Key

AT&T and the other network operators had a plan before they built out their networks. They assigned priorities, moved quickly, listened to their customers, and added more coverage and capacity as needed. FirstNet already has a huge AT&T LTE footprint though more coverage is needed in some areas, and Band 14 is being built out in a logical manner. The design engineers, site engineers, and other LTE experts are taking direction from those in charge and are filling in the holes and meeting the FirstNet goals, so far, always ahead of schedule.

Why don’t we have real take-charge leadership for rural broadband? When I look at rural America I see it as the many different groups and services that need broadband. These include:

  • Public safety
  • Schools and libraries
  • Students at home after school
  • Medical facilities and remote medicine
  • Farmers and livestock farms
  • Interstates and other roadways
  • To provide communications for the coming autonomous vehicle onslaught
  • Electric and other utilities for automatic meter reading and command-and-control
  • And more

However, those with grants for rural broadband focus on only one element of the list. For example, there have been a number of grants to take fiber to schools and libraries but that does not take care of the students at home. A number of grants have paid for fiber to the home and farm but farmers need broadband that is usable over their entire farmland. Farmers have been using cellular to automate some of their tasks. Analog cellular was the early version of machine-to-machine cellular communications well before it became the Internet of Things (IoT). It seems logical that private/public partnerships can and should be put together to solve all of these issues at once, or to expand on FirstNet Authority/FirstNet (built by AT&T) to provide more broadband to more of these segments.

I am aware that some states and regions are moving forward with a more ubiquitous plan for rural broadband. I also realize it is difficult to bring all the various stakeholders in rural areas together and then to reach a consensus. However, right now we are simply throwing taxpayer dollars at some of these groups and solving broadband connectivity issues in small segments of the rural community. A more centrally focused approach based on federal government grants and low-cost loans, partnered with one or more private sector companies, would go a long way toward addressing our “digital divide” so often mentioned in the press and in Congress.

Radio and Fiber

Some in various federal, state, and local agencies still believe fiber alone is the answer to rural broadband. Yet most of us know fiber to a central location followed by wireless broadband for distribution is more cost effective, covers larger areas, and is, I believe, the key to solving rural connectivity issues. Fiber to a school carries broadband to that school. If that broadband is then pumped through a broadband wireless pipe it can serve entire neighborhoods. In places where running fiber to a central location is too costly, there is microwave for bridging the gap. However, a fiber-only solution for rural America means that portions of our rural population will never have access to broadband.

How to Proceed?

I do not have the answer to how to convince people to work together to make rural broadband a reality. Certainly, where FirstNet is built out public safety gains broadband access. Also, as a side benefit, the citizens in that area will finally have broadband service. FirstNet is required to provide broadband service for the public safety community in rural areas but that does not mean, according to FirstNet Authority’s RFP, that every rural citizen will also be covered and have access. In order to accomplish that goal, we need to expand this very successful private/public partnership or we need to form a new one dedicated to combining all the resources the feds have made available in the form of grants and loans.

One big hurdle could be overcome if the various agencies that offer grants and loans pooled their resources and did not, as many do today, prohibit any entity that has received one grant or loan from being considered for another, even from a different agency. Solving a problem has always been about teamwork. FirstNet is a team of dedicated folks in the federal and private sectors, and it is working well. Yes, there were some rough spots and it did take a while before the two parties became a well-oiled machine. It did so because everyone involved shared the vision of taking public safety’s communications into the 22ndcentury.

What will serve as the catalyst for expanding the FirstNet mandate or using FirstNet as a starting point and forming one or more partnerships to build on its accomplishments? The federal government reminds me of a consulting assignment I once had for an international company that was the leading supplier of PC processors. I was asked to find all the groups and divisions that were working on some form of wireless technology and write a report to management so they could be brought together under one management structure. I wrote the report but nothing ever happened. When I asked the vice president who had hired me he explained that not one program I had identified was interested in working with others on common goals because each manager had his/her own set of milestones they were judged on when it came time for a promotion and/or raise. The unfortunate thing about this is that the company could have become a major force in the wireless arena had it chosen to work in unison.

Conclusion

We continue to work with counties and states on rural coverage issues, but it certainly would be easier for everyone involved if there was a centralized clearinghouse of rural funding, planning, and deployment. The largest private/public partnership in the form of FirstNet has been hugely successful, why does it not serve as a model for another to work hand-in-hand with FirstNet to eliminate, once and for all, the Digital Divide?

Some public safety folks feel that FirstNet is all about public safety and they are right. However, with priority, pre-emption, and a special core for public safety, I see no danger in using the spectrum to provide broadband for citizens in these rural areas when public safety is not using it.

Andrew M. Seybold
2018 Andrew Seybold, Inc.©

Subcommittee Approves FY 2019 CJS Bill

The House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, science, and related agencies subcommittee today approved by voice vote a fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill. Despite the voice vote, Democrats complained about portions of the bill, including gun riders. Under the bill, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would get $39.5 million for FY 2019, the same the amount it received for FY 2018. The Trump administration had requested $33.6 million for NTIA for FY 2019 (TR Daily, Feb. 12). The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office budget for FY 2019 would total $3.37 billion, all of which would be covered by fee collections. Its budget totaled $3.5 billion for FY 2018, and the Trump administration asked for $3.4 billion for FY 2019. – Courtesy TR Daily