FCC Releases National Broadband Plan: Public Safety Recommendations

March 16, 2010

On March 16, 2010, after a 13-month study, the Federal Communications Commission released to the public and Congress “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan,” containing its policy recommendations for achieving national goals identified by Congress in 2009 legislation, including ensuring that every American has “access to broadband capability.”

Create an Interoperable Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network

The Plan addresses the need to achieve nationwide interoperable public safety operations and proposes to establish at the FCC the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure that applications, devices and networks work together so that first responders can communicate with each other. It also recommends that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) undertake a survey to track progress on public safety broadband interoperability, and that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) develop appropriate standards.

The Plan recommends that the Upper 700 MHz D Block be auctioned for commercial use with technical requirements that would make it compatible with the adjacent public safety spectrum. This would make it possible, but not mandatory, for there to be a spectrum sharing partnership between the D Block licensees and the adjacent public safety broadband licensee. The Plan recommends (1) a standard air interface for the D Block—most likely LTE; (2) ensuring public safety roaming and priority access rights on the D Block; (3) development of devices that can operate on both blocks; and (4) having commercially reasonable build-out requirements for the D Block with incentives to promote additional deployment for the benefit of public safety and rural areas.

First responders should be afforded the opportunity to roam on commercial networks on a priority basis in instances where either there is no public safety network in the area or the public safety network is being utilized at maximum capacity at the moment, according to the Commission. The report also recommends liability protection for commercial networks partnering with public safety.

A new federal grant program is proposed to fund both the capital and ongoing costs of the public safety broadband network. The Plan estimates that if 99% of the population is to be covered, deployment of the network would cost $6.5 billion over a 10-year period. A long-term sustainable funding mechanism for the public safety network is also needed.

Other recommendations include: (1) surveying the deployment of public safety broadband wireless networks by Tribal, state and local governments to better understand current public safety systems; (2) ensuring that broadband mobile and fixed satellite services are available in the event of a disaster or crises; and (3) supporting federal efforts to restore broadband and broadcast services during time of emergency to ensure essential services such as NG911 and Emergency Alert Systems (EAS). In regard to the latter, the Plan recommends amendment of the Stafford Act to permit limited federal assistance during time of disaster to private, for-profit entities that support public safety such as healthcare providers and broadcasters.
Promote Cybersecurity and the Protection of Critical Broadband Infrastructure
The Plan concludes that additional safeguards are necessary to protect national commercial communications infrastructure from cyber attack, including Commission issuance of a “cybersecurity roadmap” within 180 days of the Broadband Plan’s release identifying the five most critical cybersecurity threats to the communications infrastructure and end users and establishing a two-year plan, with milestones, to address these threats.
According to the Plan, the Commission should initiate a proceeding to extend FCC Part 4 outage reporting rules to broadband ISPs and interconnected VoIP providers, as well as a proceeding to establish a voluntary cybersecurity certifications system to create market incentives for communications service providers to upgrade their network cybersecurity. Additionally, the Commission recommends FCC and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should work together to create a cybersecurity information reporting system (CIRS) to accompany the existing Disaster Information Reporting System. CIRS should be crafted as a real-time voluntary monitoring system for cyber events affecting communications infrastructure with the FCC acting as a “trusted facilitator” to ensure ISP proprietary information remains confidential.
The Commission should expand its international participation and outreach to foreign communications regulators and international organizations to address international cybersecurity activities and issues. An inquiry should be launched into broadband network resiliency in the event of physical equipment failures (e.g. damage to collocation facilities) as well as severe network overloads (e.g. during “extraordinary events” such as pandemics or bioterrorism attacks) to assess commercial networks’ preparedness and the ability of next-generation public safety communications systems to withstand such events.
Encourage Next Generation 911 Network Development and Deployment 
The Plan outlines the four fundamental purposes of NG911 that will vastly improve quality and speed of response are (1) integration of core E911 functions and capabilities (i.e. automatic number and location identification); (2) incorporation of new 911 access capabilities in multiple formats; (3) increasing system flexibility, redundancy and efficiency for Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and authorities; and (4) adding capabilities to integrate and interoperate with non-PSAP emergency responders. To this end, the Commission recommends preparation of a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identifying costs of nationwide NG911 System deployment and recommending Congress allocate public funding, including creation of a long-term funding mechanism for NG911 deployment and operation, accessibility, application development and equipment procurement and training. The Commission also notes that regulations focusing on legacy 911 systems have hampered NG911 deployment and suggests Congress consider enacting a comprehensive federal NG911 regulatory framework in coordination with the NHTSA report, as well as amending and reauthorizing the E911 Act.
In addition to extending Automatic Location Identification requirements to interconnected VoIP services, the Commission recommends initiating a proceeding to address NG911 accommodation of technologies, networks and architectures beyond voice-centric devices, including IP-based text, video and multi-media communications devices, applications and services. The report notes that consideration of all potential multiplatform technologies will  promote accessibility to 911 for non-English speaking people and people with disabilities.
A proceeding is also recommended to explore issues and develop an implementation strategy for deployment of a multiple-platform, redundant next-generation alert system to bridge the gap from the current EAS and CMAS systems to new alerting technologies such as FEMA’s in-development Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). This inquiry would enable the FCC to form a new regulatory framework for next-generation alerting, which would include all forms of media, including traditional broadcast, internet, mobile texting devices, and wireline and wireless telephones. As is the case with 911, the report notes that the use of multiplatform technologies would provide alerts to communities that are now poorly served--such as people with disabilities and non-English speakers.
Finally, the Commission recommends the Executive Branch take action by executive order or other formal means to clarify federal agency roles in the implementation, maintenance and administration of next generation alerting systems, including establishment of milestones, benchmarks and accountability measures.

    This is one of a series of reports by Bingham’s Telecom, Media, and Technology practice group focusing on specific aspects of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. If you would like to receive our reports on other topics, or to consult with us about how the Plan and its implementing proceedings may affect your business, please contact:

    Andrew D. Lipman, Partner, 202.373.6033

    Catherine Wang, Partner, 202.373.6037


    Or any other member of the Telecom, Media, & Technology Practice Group.

    This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.