FCC Mandates New Resiliency Requirements for Wireless Networks
July 15, 2022 | by Andrew Regitsky
On July 6, 2022, the FCC released a Report and Order (Order) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Further Notice) in Docket 21-346, establishing new rules to improve the reliability and resiliency of vital mobile wireless networks during disasters and other emergencies. The Order comes after a series of earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires demonstrated the vulnerability of wireless networks and the need to protect their availability.
To ensure wireless network availability during disasters, the Commission utilizes the existing industry-developed Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework (Framework) to codify a Mandatory Disaster Response Initiative (MDRI).
[T]he Framework is a voluntary agreement among a limited group of facilities-based mobile wireless service providers. This agreement, which the Commission endorsed in lieu of a mandatory regulatory regime at the time, commits its participants to a five-pronged approach to enhance coordination during an emergency by (1) providing for reasonable roaming under disaster arrangements (RuDs) when technically feasible; (2) fostering mutual aid among wireless providers during emergencies; (3) enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration by convening with local government public safety representatives to develop best practices, and establishing a provider/PSAP contact database; (4) increasing consumer readiness and preparation through development and dissemination with consumer groups of a Consumer Readiness Checklist; and (5) improving public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status, through Commission posting of data on cell site outages on an aggregated, county-by-county basis in the relevant area through its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). (Order at para. 5).
The FCC asserts that these voluntary rules must be made mandatory because carriers have taken a flexible approach to disasters and employed individual methods of implementing the Framework. Therefore, it will use its MDRI to codify the Framework for all facilities-based wireless providers.
The new rules require that all facilities-based mobile wireless providers must enter into bilateral roaming agreements with all other facilities-based mobile wireless providers from which they foreseeably request roaming privileges, or that may foreseeably request roaming privileges from it, when the MDRI is active. These agreements must be executed and in place no later than the compliance date for the MDRI.
The roaming requirement adopted in today’s Report & Order requires facilities-based mobile wireless providers to “provide for reasonable roaming under disaster arrangements (RuDs) when technically feasible, where: (i) a requesting provider’s network has become inoperable and the requesting provider has taken all appropriate steps to attempt to restore its own network, and (ii) the provider receiving the request (home provider) has determined that roaming is technically feasible and will not adversely affect service to the home provider’s own subscribers, provided that existing roaming arrangements and call processing methods do not already achieve these objectives and that any new arrangements are limited in duration and contingent on the requesting provider taking all possible steps to restore service on its own network as quickly as possible.” (Id., at para. 20)
In the Order, the Commission clarifies that “reasonable roaming” is roaming that does not disturb, but includes compliance with, its existing requirements that voice roaming arrangements be just, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, and that data roaming arrangements be commercially reasonable. It also clarifies that “technically feasible” roaming for purposes of the disaster roaming rules requires a host provider to permit a requesting provider’s customers to roam on the host provider’s network on all compatible generations of network technology that it offers to its own customers.
Roaming testing must be performed bilaterally with other providers that may foreseeably roam, or request roaming from, a given provider including, without limitation, between providers whose geographic coverage areas overlap. The first round of such testing, with respect to all other foreseeable providers, must be performed no later than the compliance date for the roaming provision of the MDRI.
The new rules require that each facilities-based mobile wireless provider enter mutual aid arrangements with all other facilities-based mobile wireless providers from which it may request or receive a request for aid during emergencies. Providers must have mutual aid arrangements in place within 30 days of the compliance date of the MDRI.
Additional rules require that each facilities-based mobile wireless provider take reasonable measures to: 1) work to enhance municipal preparedness and restoration, 2) increase consumer readiness and preparation, and 3) improve public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status.
To ease implementation of the new rules, the Commission establishes a safe harbor for providers:
Accordingly, a provider that files a letter in the dockets associated with this proceeding truthfully and accurately asserting, pursuant to section 1.16 of the Commission’s rules, that it complies with the Framework’s existing provisions, and has implemented internal procedures to ensure that its remains in compliance with these provisions, for (i) fostering mutual aid among wireless providers during emergencies, (ii) enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration by convening with local government public safety representatives to develop best practices, and establishing a provider/PSAP contact database, (iii) increasing consumer readiness and preparation through development and dissemination with consumer groups of a Consumer Readiness Checklist and (iv) improving public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status, through Commission posting of data on cell site outages on an aggregated, county-by county basis in the relevant area through its DIRS will be presumed to have complied with today’s MDRI counterpart provisions at sections 4.17(a)(2)-(5). (Id., at para. 28).
The safe harbor is not extended to providers implementation of bilateral roaming arrangements, including testing their roaming functionality and providing reports to the Commission).
The Commission sets a compliance date for the new rules at the later of (i) 30 days after the Bureau issues a Public Notice announcing that OMB has completed review of any new information collection requirements associated with the Report & Order or (ii) nine months after the publication of this Order in the Federal Register for small facilities-based mobile wireless providers and six months after the publication of this Order in the Federal Register for all other (i.e., not small) facilities-based mobile wireless providers.
New reporting adopted in the Order require facilities based wireless providers to submit a report detailing the timing, duration and effectiveness of their implementation of the MDRI’s provisions within 60 days of when the Bureau issues a Public Notice announcing such reports.
In the Further Notice, the Commission seeks industry comments on whether it would be beneficial to create a standardized form that providers could use for future reporting. Comments are due 30 days after the Further Notice appears in the Federal Register.