Emergency Communications

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Huricane Katrina and other man-made and natural disasters often reveal flaws in emergency communications systems. Here we attempt to chart the effects of disasters on our telecommunications and media communications systems -- and efforts by policymakers to stregthen these systems.

Choppy Waters for FCC on Hurricane Aid?

The commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission seemed to act in rapid-fire time this week to approve 5-0 an order aimed at helping hurricane-battered telecom networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But look closer for tensions beneath the surface.

Chairman Ajit Pai shot down ideas from Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (without calling her out by name) in his statement approving the order: "Because what’s needed to help the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands right now is action, not a hearing or a report." Rosenworcel in Sept called for public hearings in and a report on hurricane-battered parts of the U.S. to call attention to telecom woes following the storms. She strongly defended those ideas in her own statement Oct 4, saying it “boggles my mind” that the agency can’t make the same commitments it did following Katrina and Sandy. “Mother Nature’s wrath is sure to visit us again,” warned Rosenworcel, Pai’s colleague since they were sworn in together in 2012.

FCC Advances Up To $76.9 Million To Restore Communications Networks In Puerto Rico And U.S. Virgin Islands Devastated By Maria

Responding to the destruction of communications networks wreaked by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Federal Communications Commission took steps to immediately provide up to $76.9 million to help restore service. The FCC unanimously voted to immediately provide carriers with up to seven-months’ worth of support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which helps lower the cost of deploying service in areas that are costly to serve. Any funds advanced under today’s action can be used to repair telecommunications infrastructure and restore service to customers across the islands.

The FCC’s actions are intended to enable carriers to restore essential communications services as quickly as possible. FCC staff will help coordinate network repair activities to ensure that the greatest coverage is available to the most people.

A Jump-Start for Restoring Communications Networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Hurricane Maria has had a catastrophic impact on communications networks in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The Federal Communications Commission has been doing a lot to assist with repair and restoration—and that work continues. That’s why I am proposing that the FCC use its Universal Service Fund to help with these efforts. Responding to natural disasters has consumed the bulk of the FCC’s time and attention this season. But there are other important areas under our jurisdiction, and we’ll cover some of them at our upcoming meeting on October 24.

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda For October 2017 Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the October Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 24, 2017:

Support for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands – The Commission will consider an Order to clarify the use of high-cost universal service support and permit forward funding of support to aid in reconstruction of telecommunications networks damaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (WC Docket No. 10-90)

Exemption to Calling Number Identification Service – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would enable law enforcement and security personnel to obtain quick access to blocked Caller ID information needed to investigate threatening calls. It also would amend the Commission’s rules to allow non-public emergency services, such as private ambulance companies, to obtain blocked Caller ID information associated with calls requesting assistance. (CC Docket No. 91-281)

Nationwide Number Portability – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry that proposes to amend the Commission’s rules as well as seeks comment on industry models to move toward complete nationwide number portability to promote competition between all service providers and increase network routing efficiencies. (WC Docket No. 17-244; WC Docket No. 13-97)

Promoting Investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would seek comment and propose changes to the Priority Access License rules in the 3550-3700 MHz (3.5 GHz) band to increase incentives for investment, encourage more efficient spectrum use, and promote faster and more widespread network deployments. (GN Docket No. 17-258)

Hearing Aid Compatibility and Volume Control – The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration on hearing aid compatibility (HAC) that would update the volume control standard for wireline telephones, extend wireline HAC requirements to cover telephones used with advanced communications services, adopt a volume control rule for wireless handsets, and delete from the Commission’s rules an obsolete wireless HAC standard. (CG Docket No. 13-46, WT Docket Nos. 07-250, 10-254)

Part 43 Reporting Requirements for U.S. Providers of International Services – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would: (1) eliminate the Traffic and Revenue Reports and (2) streamline the Circuit Capacity Reports. (IB Docket Nos. 17-55 and 16-131)

Elimination of Main Studio Rule – The Commission will consider a Report and Order eliminating the rule that requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main studio located in or near its community of license. (MB Docket No. 17-106)

Updates to Rules Governing Ancillary/Supplementary Services and Broadcast Public Notices – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on updates to Section 73.624(g) of its rules, which imposes certain reporting obligations for broadcasters relating to the provision of ancillary or supplementary services, and Section 73.3580, which requires public notice of the filing of broadcast applications, including through newspapers. (MB Docket Nos. 17-264, 17-105)

Chairman Pai Announces Proposal To Assist Efforts To Restore Communications Networks In Puerto Rico And U.S. Virgin Islands

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released the following statement on a proposed order that would enable carriers in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to use their Universal Service Fund allocations to more quickly rebuild networks:

“Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage to communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yesterday, as part of the FCC’s ongoing work to assist with restoration efforts, I shared with my colleagues an order that would quickly make available up to $76.9 million of funding to repair wireline and wireless communication networks and restore communications services in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Specifically, I am proposing to allow carriers to use money provided through the Universal Service Fund’s high-cost program to repair and restore communications networks throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I am also proposing that we give carriers operating in these territories the option of receiving USF funding in advance. Instead of receiving a standard monthly payment, carriers could elect this month to receive seven months’ worth of funding immediately in order to expedite repair and restoration efforts. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this Order. Given the urgent situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, I am asking Commissioners to approve it as soon as possible. If this proposal has not been adopted by the FCC’s October 24 meeting, we will vote on it then.”

Google and Facebook Failed Us

In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet. But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public.

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick found that Google’s “top stories” results surfaced 4chan forum posts about a man that right-wing amateur sleuths had incorrectly identified as the Las Vegas shooter. This is playing an active role in the spread of bad information, poisoning the news ecosystem. The machines have shown they are not up to the task of dealing with rare, breaking news events, and it is unlikely that they will be in the near future. More humans must be added to the decision-making process, and the sooner the better.

Smart911: Where it’s spreading, and why first responders want you to join

Alexandria (VA) is the latest locality in the DC area to join Smart911, a system that allows users to create a safety profile that first responders see when responding to calls for help. Information you can load in the system might include medical conditions, pets, emergency contact numbers and hazardous materials first responders might encounter, such as oxygen tanks and floor plans. “You can put in information about your location beyond the address,” City of Alexandria spokesman Craig Fifer said — “if you live in a basement apartment or if you have a guest residence in an outbuilding [in] your backyard. All of these pieces of information could help responders find the person who’s placing the call.”

Hey FCC: Hurricane Victims Shouldn't Run Out of Cell Minutes

The lack of cellular phone service in Puerto Rico right now is contributing to the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the island. “We had consumers that were standing outside the mall, plugging in where they found power, and people were lined up to use their phones, our customers’ phones to make calls,” says Issa Asad, the CEO of Q-Link, a wireless cell provider. Q-Link is the third-largest U.S. provider of Lifeline, a Federal Communications Commission program that provides phones and service to low-income users, which means that the company is extending a vital service to some of the most vulnerable victims of these hurricanes. Emergency 911 calls on Q-Link’s Houston network spiked by 900 percent after Harvey, Asad says.

Providing all that free bandwidth comes at a cost for Q-Link, of course. That’s one reason that Asad has proposed that the FCC require Lifeline providers to extend free coverage after disasters—and for the FCC to help out with the costs. “While Q-Link has undertaken these efforts voluntarily, we urge the Commission to consider whether a supplemental allotment of Lifeline support for additional minutes for consumers located in federally declared disaster or emergency areas should be a part of the Commission’s response to future disasters,” reads Asad’s presentation to the FCC, dated September 6. “We feel that the FCC should put a disaster-recovery plan in that enables us to help consumers,” Asad says. “Because right now one doesn’t exist.”

NAB, Apple Diverge Over iPhone FM Chip Capability

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's call for Apple to activate the broadcast chips in iPhones has drawn some pushback from Apple suggesting Pai did not know its phones' capabilities, and a response from broadcasters suggesting Apple didn't either. Following Pai's public statement that the chips should be activated for the sake of public safety and accessing lifesaving broadcasts when cell service goes down, Apple suggested Pai was barking up the wrong tree. "IPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products," the company said.

But the National Association of Broadcasters, which had celebrated Pai's call for Apple activation, suggested Apple was not shooting straight. "Since 2012 NAB has commissioned quarterly 'tear down' reports from ABI Research on a wide variety of Smartphones to discover their capabilities. ABI’s analysis reveals that every Apple iPhone built during that time, including the iPhone 7, has a chipset that includes support for FM radio," said NAB executive VP, communications, Dennis Wharton. "Apple also continues to sell an iPhone 6S with an FM chip that is not activated, and there are nearly 100 million iPhones in the marketplace with a deactivated FM chip. Like FCC Chairman Pai, we encourage Apple to activate this feature on their future handsets so Americans can have access to lifesaving information during emergency situations, something that many local radio stations provide. We welcome the opportunity to work with Apple to make that happen."

More than 90 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell sites are out of action

With nearly half of Puerto Ricans without clean drinking water, and with the territory's electricity systems “totally shot,” according to President Donald Trump, the Caribbean island is in dire need of hurricane assistance. But that's not all: A report by the Federal Communications Commission shows that cellular service has been all but obliterated in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. Although the area's two 911 dispatch centers are functional, as much as 91 percent of Puerto Rico's cell sites are out of action, according to the FCC. The US Virgin Islands aren't faring much better, with 66 percent of their cell sites currently down.