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.
On Monday, September 11th, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will host a public workshop to discuss best practices for improving situational awareness during 911 outages. Topics addressed in the workshop will include how to strengthen Public Safety Answering Point 911 service outage notifications and how to best communicate with consumers about alternative methods of accessing emergency services.
When the Commerce Department earlier in 2017 awarded the contract to build the FirstNet nationwide mobile broadband public safety network to AT&T, it wasn’t a done deal for all 50 states. Individual states still must opt in (which at least five already have done) or opt out of AT&T’s plan for the state. And as a Verizon FirstNet letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission July 24 illustrates, there are a lot of questions about what opting out means.
As Verizon notes in the letter, states opting out are permitted to use a different network operator to build and operate the public safety network within the state, as long as the network is interoperable with FirstNet. But there are some major gray areas, according to Verizon, including whether or not an individual state can use their selected carrier’s “network core” to support the state’s public safety network. The “network core” includes “data centers and systems used to interconnect users to each other and to other public networks,” Verizon said.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created to equip America’s first responders with state-of-the-art communications tools, enabled by the first nationwide interoperable, wireless broadband network. But FirstNet is doing much more than building a communications network: the organization is also working to drive continuous innovation over the Network – including the development of an open, integrated applications ecosystem tailored for public safety users.
Through FirstNet’s outreach to public safety, first responders have told them about the advantages of data communications in the field and their growing use of mobile broadband tools and technologies to help save lives. They have heard from responders at station visits, city and state meetings, training opportunities and ride-alongs about the promise of using applications over the FirstNet Network. FirstNet is taking first responders’ feedback and using their ideas to cultivate an open, integrated applications ecosystem on the FirstNet Network, so that public safety personnel will have access to more targeted applications and more timely data than ever before possible.
GAO Report: FirstNet Has Made Progress Establishing the Network, but Should Address Stakeholder Concerns and Workforce Planning
The US Government Accountability Office was asked to review FirstNet’s progress and efforts to ensure the network is reliable, secure, and interoperable. GAO (1) examined FirstNet’s efforts to establish the network; (2) obtained stakeholder views on network reliability, security, and interoperability challenges FirstNet faces and its efforts to address them; and (3) assessed FirstNet’s plans to oversee its network contractor. GAO reviewed FirstNet documentation, key contract oversight practices identified in federal regulations and other sources, tribal communication practices identified by federal agencies, and assessed FirstNet’s efforts and plans against these practices. GAO also interviewed FirstNet officials and a nongeneralizable selection of publicsafety, tribal, and other stakeholders selected to obtain a variety of viewpoints. GAO recommends that FirstNet fully explore tribal stakeholders’ concerns and assess its long-term staffing needs. FirstNet agreed with GAO’s recommendations.
Apple has patented a process that would allow users to secretly call 911 using only their fingerprint. In a patent published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the tech giant outlined a feature that would allow users to call emergency services "when a conventional method may not be practical." Although it's already possible to call 911 through the lockscreen on iOS devices, this would allow users to reach out for help when an attacker or assailant is watching, the patent said. The company suggests the technology would look for a sequence of fingerprints or applied pressure to trigger a 911 call.
Soon after his daughter's funeral, Hank Hunt began reaching out to dozens of resources to make sure his tragedy never happens to anyone else. His mission: to ensure 9-1-1 could be dialed directly from any landline phone from any public building in the US. He names it “Kari’s Law.”
A few state legislatures have passed Kari’s Law and Congress is considering nationwide action. But Verizon didn’t wait for a government mandate. Verizon began updating the network we use in our landline territory to serve multi-line customers and allow for direct dialing of 9-1-1, becoming the industry leader in making the goal of Kari’s Law a reality. The project is 97% complete and by summer’s end it will be at 99% with the final changes scheduled to be finished before the end of 2017.
Virginia is expected to be the first state to opt in to AT&T FirstNet plans to build a wireless public safety network that ultimately will interconnect with public safety networks in all 50 states. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced the decision at an event July 11.
Experts and government officials say 911 systems across the country are dangerously outdated and putting lives at risk, while 911 fees consumers pay on monthly phone bills to maintain and upgrade the systems are often diverted by states for other uses. In fact, Scripps found that two dozen states were named “diverters” by the Federal Communications Commission at least once from 2008-2015, and some were repeat offenders. Experts warn that the nation’s antiquated patchwork of 911 systems is an easy target for hackers who want to wreak havoc and criminals who want to hijack 911 and demand a ransom.
Rivada Networks said it received the top score among three bidders to build Michigan’s statewide public safety broadband network. But that doesn’t at all mean it will beat out FirstNet for its first statewide win.
Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget recommended that the state analyze Rivada’s bid alongside FirstNet’s proposal “to determine the best value bid for the state,” the company said this morning in a release. Michigan is the second state to select a vendor for a potential alternative to FirstNet, Rivada said, following the lead of New Hampshire, which is also considering Rivada’s offering. “We are honored that our alternative plan for public safety broadband in Michigan will have the chance to be placed side-by-side with the federal government’s offering,” said Declan Ganley, Rivada’s co-CEO, in the announcement. “By putting out this RFP (request for proposal), Michigan has given its governor a real choice, as envisioned in the legislation that created FirstNet.”
Americans are reaping the benefits of rapid and exciting changes in the ways we communicate. But many of the problems that consumers confront stubbornly remain. For too long, Americans have been plagued by unwanted and unlawful robocalls. For too long, they’ve found unauthorized charges and changes to their phone service on their bills—practices commonly known as “slamming” and “cramming.” And for too long, some phone calls that are placed to rural residents have been dropped. Efforts to excommunicate this unholy triad of consumer scourges—unlawful robocalls, slamming/cramming, and rural call completion—headline the FCC’s agenda in July. During Consumer Protection Month, we will take up several public interest initiatives to address problems that too many Americans face.