By Jeff Cohen
On August 7, during APCO’s Annual Conference, Chief Counsel Jeff Cohen provided the following report on APCO’s advocacy efforts at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
APCO has continued to press for regulatory actions at the FCC to promote public safety communications. I will touch on some key points of interest, but please feel free to reach out to discuss these issues or any others in greater detail.
Since last year’s conference, Jessica Rosenworcel was sworn in as Chair of the FCC. Chairwoman Rosenworcel is a long-time champion of public safety issues and has taken action on several public safety communications items in the past year. The Chairwoman has also been an advocate for reclassification of public safety telecommunicators at the federal level and has been instrumental in building support for major NG9-1-1 funding legislation.
The FCC remains a 2-2 split of democrat and republican commissioners as we are still awaiting confirmation of a 5th commissioner. This can have the effect of hindering some action yet there has been support from both sides on several public safety issues.
Before I get into details, let me explain how as a general matter APCO’s advocacy distinguishes itself from other stakeholders. First, public safety should not bear any new or additional costs or responsibilities that more properly rest with service providers and vendors. Second, when it comes to 9-1-1, we advocate from the perspective of what will best serve the operational needs of 9-1-1 professionals. Third, when it comes to spectrum, it is the responsibility of new entrants and the FCC to ensure that public safety operations remain protected from interference.
Ok I’ll now address a few areas where we’ve seen modest, but overall positive improvements in the past year.
9-1-1 Outage Reporting, Reliability, and Resiliency
ECCs need timely, actionable information when network outages impact the ability of the public to reach 9‑1‑1.
We have pressed for rule changes that would require service providers like wireless carriers to share timely information about outages with ECCs in an easily accessible format. APCO has also called for the carriers to establish a two-way contact database to ensure that ECCs and service providers know who to contact in the event of an outage.
While we await action on these needed changes, the FCC has taken some steps toward enhancing network resiliency and reliability. Last September, Chairwoman Rosenworcel and Commissioner Carr visited Louisiana to investigate the impacts of Hurricane Ida on emergency communications. The FCC then proposed rules to improve outage notifications, including the information provided to ECCs. And just a few months ago Commissioner Carr participated in an APCO webinar on improving emergency communications resiliency where he announced support for certain reliability enhancements.
In July, and with APCO’s support, the FCC adopted new rules regarding arrangements among the major wireless carriers to increase coordination and information sharing during emergencies. For example, the new rules require all wireless service providers to execute roaming agreements with each other and to share resources in emergency situations.
I’ll now turn to location-based routing, which means routing wireless 9‑1‑1 calls based on the location of the device instead of the location of the cell tower handling the call. Until recently, location-based routing hasn’t been considered technically feasible, but now AT&T is implementing location-based routing nationwide, and T-Mobile has implemented it in some areas. The FCC recently sought public comment on requiring location-based routing.
APCO has advocated that the FCC should require carriers to provide location-based routing and explained that the time saved without needing to transfer a call to another ECC could save thousands of lives each year. Also, because some carriers are voluntarily providing location‑based routing, we have pushed back on suggestions that 9‑1‑1 authorities should be responsible for enabling location-based routing or bear some costs, and explained that location‑based routing is not, and need not be, dependent on the deployment of pre‑NG9‑1‑1 technologies such as Emergency Services IP Networks or ESInets.
In another proceeding, the FCC sought feedback on a request that the agency begin a proceeding to adopt rules to facilitate the transition to NG9‑1‑1. APCO challenged assumptions made in the request about how NG9‑1‑1 costs should be allocated between the industry and public safety, cautioning against developing rules based on how NG9‑1‑1 has been envisioned in the past or how service providers want to be deploying NG9‑1‑1. We also advocated for more concrete ways the FCC could facilitate NG9‑1‑1, to require interoperability of 9‑1‑1 service providers, and location-based routing.
We await further FCC action.
Wireless 9-1-1 Location Accuracy
Next I’ll discuss wireless 9‑1‑1 location accuracy. APCO has continued efforts to ensure ECCs receive the best possible location information with 9‑1‑1 calls.
In April 2021, the wireless carriers failed to meet an FCC requirement to provide vertical location information with 9‑1‑1 calls. The FCC fined the carriers and gave them an additional year to comply. The carriers could comply by providing either dispatchable location such as 123 Main St., Apartment 501, or “z-axis” information represented as an estimated “height above ellipsoid,” which is not the same as height above ground or sea level. The focus must be on dispatchable location because that’s far more actionable than the z-axis approach, which – even if the vertical estimate is accurate – would require agencies to obtain 3D maps of all buildings and new software to use the information. And again, we have pushed back on stakeholders who believe 9‑1‑1 should bear such responsibilities.
This summer the carriers announced that they were compliant with the z-axis rules. We’re making sure the carriers are truly compliant, but we’re also staying focused on the bigger picture to get the location information that ECCs need.
Now I’ll pivot to some updates on spectrum issues.
First, the 6 GHz band, which is heavily used for long haul microwave links essential to public safety communications. In 2020, the FCC opened the 6 GHz band to widespread use by unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi routers, despite significant concern over the threat of interference to public safety communications. We continue to pursue a number of efforts at the FCC in light of mounting evidence, including real-world testing, that validated our interference concerns.
Last fall, APCO and others asked the FCC to stop authorizing new unlicensed devices and to re-evaluate how to share the spectrum while protecting public safety from interference. These filings remain pending with the FCC.
APCO is closely monitoring developments with the band, including ensuring that interference protection mechanisms are as effective as claimed, and will continue to urge the FCC and industry to take the necessary steps to protect public safety operations from harmful interference.
Next an update on the 4.9 GHz band. The vision for this spectrum was to give public safety a dedicated option for new broadband communications. In 2020, the FCC adopted rules that would have effectively given this band to states to lease for commercial use. APCO was successful in convincing the FCC to reverse that rule change, and in September 2021, the FCC proposed an alternative approach that would refocus on public safety use of the band. APCO offered recommendations that would improve public safety use, spur innovation, improve coordination, and only allow other entities to use the band if public safety retains priority and preemption rights. Presently, we are exploring options for the best path forward.
You can contact APCO’s Government Relations Office with any feedback by emailing [email protected].
About the TabletopX Blog
A “Tabletop Exercise,” often shortened as “TTX,” is a discussion-based exercise frequently used by emergency planners. Led by a facilitator using a planned scenario, TTX participants describe the actions they would take, and the processes and procedures they would follow. The facilitator notes the players’ contributions and ensures that exercise objectives are met. Following the exercise, the facilitator typically develops an after-action report and conducts a debrief discussion during which players and observers have an opportunity to share their thoughts, observations, and recommendations from the exercise without assigning fault or blame.
Many of the attributes of a TTX are the same we seek to promote in the discussion generated from our blog posts. The goal is to capitalize on the shared experiences and expertise of all the participants to identify best practices, as well as areas for improvement, and thus achieve as successful a response to an emergency as possible.
TabletopX blog posts are written by APCO’s Government Relations team and special guests.
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