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'Piling on'?

FCC Regulatees Argue Against Expanded Outage Reporting

Broadband providers, broadcasters, satellite companies and the FirstNet Authority urged the FCC not to expand outage reporting requirements. Meanwhile, groups such as Public Knowledge, Next Century Cities and The Utility Reform Network (TURN) said increased reporting rules are a matter of public safety. Comments were filed in docket 21-346 by Monday’s deadline.

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Public safety officials need “clear knowledge of the communications environment in as close to real time as possible,” said a joint filing from PK, the Communications Workers of America, and New America’s Open Technology Institute. However, across communications technologies, companies and trade groups said additional reporting requirements would burden entities during emergencies and provide little useful information to the FCC. “Piling on additional regulatory considerations and compliance measures during a disaster would be counterproductive,” said NTCA. “While the Commission may be frustrated at not having daily information about a company’s challenges and restoration efforts, a daily infrastructure report will do little to inform the Commission.”

FCC proposals for extending mandatory outage reporting requirements to include broadcasters, FirstNet, satellite providers, and broadband internet access service (BIAS) providers were the focus of most of the filings.

Mandatory reporting during emergencies can only serve to distract broadcasters from their mission” of providing information during a disaster “with no discernible public benefit, NAB said. Reporting outages to the disaster information reporting system (DIRS) traditionally doesn’t result in action from public officials, said NAB and low-power FM group REC Networks. NAB “is unaware of any instances when a DIRS filing led to government assistance that helped a radio or television station obtain fuel, repair a transmitter or studio, or otherwise maintain or restore service.” Only “a few people in Washington will benefit from” the additional reporting, REC said: “It is not like if a station reports in DIRS that they are without power that a generator will magically show up in their parking lot by 9 AM the next morning.” The proposal would especially burden public broadcasters, said NPR and a joint filing from numerous public stations. “The stations that make up public broadcasting are not part of large corporate structures; they are donor-supported, and they are operated by local licensees,” the joint filing said.

Next Century Cities, a broadband access nonprofit composed of municipalities, condemned this view of outage reporting as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because broadcasters “do not take advantage of the benefits the system provides.” NCC and other public interest groups said that because broadcasters are the heart of the emergency alert system, it's critical for authorities to know about their outages. “This vital and timely situational awareness cannot rely on voluntary commitments,” said TURN. Verizon also threw its support behind requiring mandatory DIRS for broadcasting. NAB released a report in March “touting the public value of AM radio during disasters, particularly when wireless service may not be available,” Verizon said. “So it seems appropriate for broadcasters to be incorporated into the Commission’s information gathering and situational awareness efforts.”

Broadcasters also raised concerns that mandatory requirements could expose companies to enforcement actions. For broadcasters “to be told that they will be held accountable for placing their safety and livelihood over an uncertain need for the public to be informed is government overreach at its worst,” said Cumulus.

T-Mobile and Verizon joined the public interest groups in support of an FCC proposal to extend mandatory outage reporting to FirstNet, but the FirstNet Authority in its comment submission said that would be unnecessary. “AT&T’s recent nationwide outage included FirstNet operations and yet the Commission had no visibility into what the exact impacts were to FirstNet,” T-Mobile said. Information on FirstNet’s “network status, infrastructure, and assets” is already included as part of AT&T’s outage reporting and so already available to the FCC, said FirstNet: Extending the FCC’s DIRS/network outage reporting system “rules to explicitly apply to FirstNet would be duplicative.”

NCTA, the Wireless ISP Association and other ISP groups opposed requiring DIRS reports for BIAS providers. Again, increased burdens were cited. "It remains unclear why new reporting obligations would be necessary or helpful,” given existing outage reporting rules, said NCTA. The joint filing from PK and other groups disagreed, noting that many BIAS providers don’t offer voice or video and so lack outage reporting requirements. BIAS services “have become thoroughly integrated into emergency response and must therefore have the same mandatory reporting requirements as wireless, wireline and VOIP providers,” the joint filing said.

Several internet provider entities focused on the FCC’s dependence on classification of broadband as falling under Title II of the Communications Act. The agency “should be wary of adopting broadband outage reporting rules whose legal basis is dependent on Title II classification of broadband,” said ACA Connects. “Because the commission’s proposals rest on tenuous legal authority, it should proceed cautiously.” The FCC “should not rely on Title II to impose outage reporting on broadband providers,” WISPA said.

The FCC shouldn’t require outage reporting for BIAS providers only for “hard downs” -- total network outages -- but also for networks slowed or degraded because of a disaster, said the PK joint filing. Such a policy “would require providers to make subjective judgments in real time whether the threshold has been reached, diverting resources from response,” ACA said.

Proposals requiring providers to submit daily reports on the deployment of mobile wireless networks deployed during disasters would be extremely burdensome for little gain, said CTIA, Verizon and others. Providers “consider many variables in deciding which mobile recovery assets to deploy and where they should be deployed, and those variables change on a daily, if not hourly, basis,” CTIA said. “Reporting the availability and location of specific mobile assets at a snapshot point in the recovery period is unlikely to yield actionable information.” The FCC should require not only the current location data but also plans for future deployments at a street level, said Next Century Cities.

Satellite companies such as Iridium, EchoStar and SiriusXM said that requiring mandatory outage reports doesn’t make sense for their industry. “The space-based nature of satellite systems significantly reduces the risk of disaster- or weather-related outages” and satellite systems have multiple redundancies, EchoStar said. “The features of terrestrial communication systems that make DIRS reporting critical for those operators are not relevant to satellite operators,” said SiriusXM. Satellite systems have terrestrial components and their equipment in space can be subject to solar flares or mechanical failure, the PK filing said.

Many companies were also critical of a proposal requiring after-action reports in the wake of an outage. Such a report should be voluntary, said USTelecom. Added NCTA, “A new reporting requirement would result in paperwork for its own sake without adding value to disaster response efforts or the Commission’s understanding of network reliability.” The trade group also urged the FCC to keep outage reporting nonpublic. Yet PK's joint filing countered that position. “It is difficult to see how requiring providers to submit public versions of their reports can compromise trade secrets. Embarrassment is not a trade secret, and providers who are negligent or reckless should not be shielded from public scrutiny and opprobrium.”