Recent natural disasters like Hurricane Ida have highlighted the importance to the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) of stable communications networks. Such disasters can cause disruptions and delays to the transmission of 911 calls, first responder communications, Emergency Alert Systems (“EAS”), and other important communications during emergencies. The FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on proposed rules to improve the resilience and reliability of communications networks during emergencies at its September Open Meeting. The NPRM was published in the Federal Register on November 4, 2021 and therefore comments are due on December 6, 2021, and reply comments are due on January 4, 2022.
The FCC emphasized the importance of resilient networks by hosting a virtual field hearing on improving the resiliency and recovery of communications networks during disasters during its October Open Meeting. The hearing included two panels: “Lesson’s from the Ground” and “Building Resiliency into U.S. Networks.” The panels included experienced public safety and communications stakeholders and provided discussions about opportunities to improve emergency network resiliency.
The NPRM seeks comment on three main topics: (1) measures to help communications services remain operational amid disasters; (2) promoting situational awareness during disasters through a Disaster Information Reporting System (“DIRS“) and the Network Outage Reporting System (“NORS“); and (3) communications resilience strategies to address electric power outages.
Keeping Communications Services Operational Amid Disasters
Currently, there is a voluntary Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework (“Framework”) that provides participants with access to NORS and DIRS information to aid in public safety. The Commission seeks comment on how the Framework can be improved, activation timing, the scope of Framework obligations and whether participants should be expanded. The NPRM also asks how to better address the use of roaming during a disaster and foster mutual aid. The Commission also contemplates whether to codify portions of the Framework.
Situational Awareness During Disasters
DIRS is a web-based means for service providers to voluntarily report their communications infrastructure status, restoration information, and situational awareness information to the FCC specifically during times of crisis. The NPRM seeks comment on additional methods to increase broader voluntary participation during disasters and whether the Commission should require service providers to participate.
The FCC requires communication providers to report network outages that last at least 30 minutes and meet additional conditions in NORS. The NPRM seeks comment on the public interest benefits and costs of reporting broadband service outages and whether the NORS reporting requirements should be suspended during disasters.
Addressing Electric Power Outages
Power outages are a common factor in disaster and emergency situations and the NPRM seeks comment on the actions the FCC, providers, and power companies can take to coordinate in all stages of emergencies and disasters. The Commission seeks feedback regarding existing requirements for covered 911 service providers to implement central-office backup power measures to help ensure 911 reliability. Currently, covered 911 services must certify their compliance with backup standards for public safety answering points (“PSAPs”) and central offices that have a selective router that directs 911 calls. PSAPs have the opportunity to weigh in and help the FCC develop regulations that take PSAP experience into consideration. Additionally, the FCC requests information about any changed circumstances since the FCC’s last consideration of backup power that may affect the continuity of power and alternative measures that promote continuity of power.
Please contact the authors of this post or your Kelley Drye attorney if you are interested in filing comments on this NPRM, monitoring the proceeding, or understanding how it could impact your business.