WASHINGTON, March 7, 2020 – At a February 27 hearing, representatives of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee took testimony on the need for reliable emergency telecom for first responders through measures like the RESILIENT Networks Act and the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
Santa Rosa County Fire Chief Tony Gossner garnered attention from the subcommittee for fighting California’s ravaging wildfires.
The emergency communications legislation aims to promote the building of more small cell towers.
“Without the towers,” Gossner recalled, “it really hampered our ability to notify the community and tell them to get out of the way.”
In contrast to other wildfires, the Kincade Fire of 2019 was ameliorated by rapid communications through redundant cell towers, Gossner said. He described how his department was able to move swiftly and prevent unnecessary death and destruction from occurring.
Subcommittee witnesses also addressed other emergency-related communications. Sue Atkerson, CEO of Behavioral Health Link, said suicide is one of the leading causes of death in America, with around 50,000 Americans taking their lives in 2018.
Atkerson encouraged the subcommittee to vote in favor of a bill that would change the national hotline number from “a difficult to remember, 10-digit hotline” to 988, a cognitively simple 3-digit area code similar to 911.
Committee member Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, asked Atkerson about how the new 988 suicide hotline number would help. He recounted the story of how a woman in his Bible study group in Sugarland had lost two sons to suicide.
After expressing her condolences to the congressman’s community, Atkerson that the proposed 988 number would be much easier to remember and would increase the amount of people who use the services.
Atkerson also noted that similar to the “golden hour” during which is ideal to treat a stroke patient, time is of the essence when dealing with someone going through a mental health crisis, and the minutes gained by not having to look up a 10 digit phone number could make the difference.
Committee member Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., asked the panelists about how resiliency and emergency preparedness will be impacted by the rollout of 5G.
Matthew Gerst, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA responded that adding hundreds of thousands of small cells through the legislation will “absolutely” help public safety officials communicate. This is due to the low latency offered by 5G and redundancy inherent in the network.
Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios
Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.
KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.
The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.
In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.
The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.
Fires presented challenges for providers
Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.
Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.
The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.
Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.
Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.
Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say
Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021–– Experts at a Federal Communications Bar Association event earlier this month said the current funding allocation for next-generation 911 services is inadequate.
Currently, under the Joe Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, the new 911 services – which will allow people to share videos, images and texts with 911 call centers – is allocated $500 million.
“It’s not enough to fully fund 911,” David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies, said on the FCBA’s “What Comes Next in 911” panel on November 4. Redl was formerly the head of the Commerce Department’s telecom agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Redl said the number could be “about 12 billion.” For Redl, the challenge is to address the funding gap for NG911 “when there’s skepticism in Washington and the [Federal Communications Commission and] when states have different ideas about the best way to allocate funding and best technology to use.”
Dan Henry, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, agreed.
While Henry said he’s excited about the national-level interoperability tools for call centers that will allow the ability to transfer emergency calls across states with the call’s incident file intact, the failure to get sufficient funding for NG911 puts health and safety at risk. “We’re not near what we need to get [NG911] across the finish line,” he said.
The technology to deploy NG911 is ready, added Chandy Ghosh, chief operating officer and general manager of emergency services at communications company Inteliquent. “It’s not a tech issue,” she said. Wireless clients have been testing NG911 with successful results.
Stakeholders need to communicate with government
Chris Moore, principal at consulting firm Brooks Bawden Moore, said a federal investment is required to deploy NG911. He suggested that industry stakeholders should convene to tell government what they need.
“For now we’ll get what we get, we’re going to continue to push for more funding, but it’s not going to be this round,” he said.
On October 26, the National Association of State 911 Administrators Association asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to assist with the implementation of NG911 by clarifying the agency’s authority to regulate the delivery of 911 services through internet protocol-based emergency networks and shift cost-bearing to service providers.
FCC February Meeting Targets 911 Fee Diversion and Replacing Foreign Telecommunications Equipment
February 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted two proposals in Wednesday’s meeting: Seeking comments on rule changes for 911 fee diversion, and also the secure and trusted network reimbursement program.
The first proposal seeks comment on a 911 fee diversion rule that would define what constitutes a diversion of those funds from their intended use. Part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, passed in December 2020, requires the FCC to issue these rules. Fees from 911 are levied by state and local governments to help pay for the operating costs of emergency services, which consumers pay through their phone bills.
The rule change intends to prevent states from diverting some of those funds for purposes other than 911 operations.
“Both Congress and the commission have long recognized that 911 fees should serve 911 purposes and have worked to combat fee diversion,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.
According to the FCC’s 2020 report, five states diverted over 200 million dollars from the 911 fees they collected. The vast majority of fee diversions occur in New York and New Jersey, according to National Emergency Number Association’s Brian Fontes.
The second proposal seeks comment on the secure and trusted network reimbursement program, which subsidizes funds to companies for replacing communications equipment due to national security concerns.
Several of the commissioners expressed concern about Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE technologies being used in the United States due to their ties to the Chinese government.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $1.9 billion to “remove, replace, and dispose of communications equipment and services that pose a national security threat,” said the FCC’s news release.
Both proposals received 4-0 affirmative votes.
Also notable during Wednesday’s meeting was Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s announcement of a new task force to address poor broadband mapping data. Jean Kiddoo was named chair of the task force.
During a press call following the meeting, Rosenworcel said that she supports spectrum sharing, which would allow providers to share space in certain areas of the radio wave spectrum. There are a lot of entities interested in the popular bands of the spectrum, and we need to be creative and efficient in how we use that space, she said.
Rosenworcel’s position conflicts with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade association comprised of many communication companies, which supports exclusive access to parts of the spectrum.
Wednesday’s meeting marks the first FCC meeting chaired by Rosenworcel in her new position as acting chairwoman. She can serve in that position until President Biden puts forward a candidate to serve as chairman or chairwoman, and that candidate is confirmed by the Senate. Because Rosenworcel was already confirmed as a commissioner, she can serve in that role until her term expires.
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