The American economy is dynamic and innovative, which is critical for sustained economic growth. The FCC is tasked with overseeing broadband and other communications networks. We must be as agile as the communications sector, as well as protect consumers. Both goals will be served in the items I circulate today for our August meeting.
First, we must ensure that consumers can continue to rely on 911, even as the technologies and platforms we use to communicate evolve.
This past April, we saw a large-scale 911 outage centered in Washington state, where more than 4,500 911 calls did not get through during one six-hour period. The FCC launched an investigation in to these outages in May, and the investigation is ongoing. Initial reports suggest that this outage appears to be a case where the transition to new networks may have been managed poorly and providers in the 911 ecosystem are not operating in a manner that is transparent to system users, regulators and each other.
Let me be plain – no company will be allowed to hang up on 911.
Admiral David Simpson, the head of our Public Safety Bureau, delivered this message to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners earlier this week. He was clear -- incumbent providers that have taken a responsibility for making 911 work have also undertaken a public trust that cannot be compromised. It will never be acceptable to tell anyone they can’t connect to 911 because of “innovation in the cloud” or a new business model, or because a new communications function has superseded carrier responsibility. The bottom line is 911 must be preserved and improved.
The fact is our 911 system has struggled to keep pace with new technology. Witness the long-standing inability to text to 911. We’ve made significant progress on this issue this year. Consistent with a Policy Statement unanimously adopted by the Commission in January 2014 the four major wireless carriers, which serve 95 percent of U.S. customers now support text-to-911. More than 100 emergency call centers in 17 states now support text-to-911, and others have initiated plans to come online. I commend the four nationwide wireless carriers for following through on their commitment, and while I’m pleased to see that PSAPs are beginning to respond there remains more to be done.
Other than the four major wireless carriers, no other providers of text services have offered voluntary commitments to implement text-to-911. On the PSAP side, despite recent progress, the majority still do not support text-to-911.
When you consider how Americans increasingly rely on text as a primary means of communication, and the approximately 48 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing and 7.5 million Americans with speech disabilities, all of whom are even more reliant on text, these shortcomings are unacceptable.
I’ve often spoken about the regulatory see-saw: if industry acts in the public interest, FCC involvement will be low, but if the public interest is not being served, the Commission will not hesitate to act. In the case of text-to-911, it is time for the Commission to act. And today, I am circulating an item for consideration at our August open meeting that will take definitive action to implement the Policy Statement we unanimously adopted in January.
Earlier I spoke of the need to update not only policies, but processes. Agency-wide we have been moving forward with changes to streamline how the Commission functions, and to update outdated rules.
Today, I am proposing that we update our rules regarding antenna structure lighting and marking to provide clarity and reduce regulatory burdens on antenna structure owners and licensees. In doing so, we specifically adhere to the FAA’s air safety requirements.
More specifically, we will vote at our August meeting on a Report and Order that would streamline and eliminate outdated provisions of the Commission’s Part 17 rules governing the construction, marking, and lighting of antenna structures.
This is one piece in our ongoing work to make the regulatory approval process for wireless infrastructure more efficient and effective. Our efforts will enable the companies that deploy wireless networks to build out quickly without unnecessary burdens and, as a result, benefit American consumers by meeting their demand for more and more wireless service. At the same time, we are committed to preserving safeguards that prevent deleterious impacts on historical, environmental, and local interests.
The Report and Order would also make common-sense updates to our rules. For instance, it would change our rules to allow antenna structure owners to report lighting outages by any means acceptable to the FAA, rather than by “telephone or telegraph.”
The communications sector will never stop changing and evolving. The FCC is committed to updating our policies and processes to facilitate and accelerate these advances to maximize the benefits for the American people.