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Confirming 2020 Election Results Could Prove Challenging, Say Brookings Panelists

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Photo of Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey in 2017 by New America used with permission

July 29, 2020 — According to governance experts, the upcoming November election will operate on a significantly different timeline than traditional U.S. elections.

The majority of Americans, 60 to 65 percent, are expected to vote by absentee ballots in the 2020 election, said Elaine Kamarck, founding director of the Center for Effective Public Management, during a Brookings Institution webinar on Tuesday.

Panelists claimed that cities and states are ready for what promises to be an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, but the process of counting votes may take more time than usual.

“To count all these absentee ballots is going to take some time,” Kamarck said, explaining that the final vote must be tallied by December 14, the constitutional date for the meeting of the electoral college.

“We have November 3 to December 14 to get this done and get it done right,” she said.

Panelists said that they were anxious that the upcoming election could become long and contested.

Domestic misinformation was more likely to cause this outcome than foreign misinformation, they said.

President Donald Trump has continued to spread misinformation online regarding the security of mail-in votes, Kamarck said, even though mail-in ballots have historically had low levels of corruption associated with them and are extremely difficult to influence.

Kamarck said she believed that Trump was attempting to sow doubts against the legitimacy of the election system to lay the foundation for contesting the outcome if he loses.

“In reality, we have a far healthier and more secure voting infrastructure than we did in the past,” said Susan Hennessey, executive editor at Lawfare.

Many people are working to make sure voting in the upcoming election is secure, as it is in everyone’s interest, she said.

While voting infrastructure has improved, COVID-19 is putting a strain on election resources. The pandemic has caused a shortage in polling volunteers, resulting in fewer polling locations being open.

Hennessey expressed fears that the government’s failure to control the pandemic will lead to an amplification of voter suppression, bringing the legitimacy of election results into question.

America has good election machinery, Kamarck said, but lacks a good approach to counter lies, misinformation and voter suppression.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

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Funding

Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say

Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.

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David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies and former head of NTIA

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.

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FCC February Meeting Targets 911 Fee Diversion and Replacing Foreign Telecommunications Equipment

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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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Public Safety

FCC’s Jessica Rosenworcel Tells Public Safety She Wants to Halt the T-Band Auction and Fund 911 Upgrades

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

December 2, 2020 – Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission – and who appears to be considered for elevation to chairman of the agency under President-elect Joe Biden – advocated that the T-Band auction be stopped by Congress and that the status of 911 responders be changed.

Speaking at a conference of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials on Tuesday, Rosenworcel reiterated that there has long been bipartisan support for not having auctions in the T-Band.

Earlier this year, the commission’s current chairman, Ajit Pai, issued proposed rule-making to regarding the T-Band auction mandate in the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, also called the Spectrum Act.

According to Rosenworcel, when the law was first created, it was assumed that first responders would not need those airwaves by 2021. However, as of this month, about a dozen major metropolitan areas are still using them, including big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Pittsburg, Houston, Dallas, and others.

Unless the law is changed, the FCC will be required by law to auction off those airwaves in the 470-512 MegaHertz band, whether they want to or not.

Screenshot from the webinar

Commissioner Rosenworcel called upon Congress to fix the law so the agency doesn’t have to hold the T-Band Auction in a few months.

If that doesn’t work out, she said the FCC should work collaboratively with Congress and first responders to ensure that the auction doesn’t threaten their continued use of these airwaves.

She also offered several tools to make this work, like setting reserve prices, looking at auction eligibility, and upfront payments.

Funding 911 upgrades

Rosenworcel was optimistic when it came to funding for 911 upgrades. For infrastructure, there was “no better expenditure than improving public safety.” She projected that if the U.S. were to develop some national program to stimulate and improve 911 infrastructure, it would touch every state and every community.

She cited current legislation like the NG-911 act, The Moving Forward America Act, and the Lift America Act, as reasons she believes 911 infrastructure could be upgraded for “everyone everywhere.”

“We are on the cusp of a new generation of public safety, said Rosenworcel. “Next generation 911 can radically improve the public safety of all of us who call that number.”

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