Urgent Matters

Federal-state-local talks today could enable better, smoother public-safety communications transitions in the future

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What role should federal, state and local governments play in next-generation public-safety communications? It's a critical question that deserves a thoughtful, comprehensive answer, not a hodge-podge of decisions from lawmakers, regulators and courts at all levels.

Understanding roles is a critical component to any successful unit, event or organization. At a family level, this may involve details like who will take kids to soccer practice and who will make sure that dinner is on the table when they get home. In a corporation, myriad tasks are divided between teams of individuals who typically are trained in a particularly area of business, be it accounting, legal or engineering.

Things tend to go well when everyone involved clearly understand his or her role, from the person at the top of the organization chart to the person serving as a volunteer at an event.

When roles are not clearly understood, things can get confusing. In some cases, a lack of certainty means nothing gets done; in other cases, a task may be done more than once—often via methods that conflict with each other and represent a waste of valuable resources, such as time, money and effort.

Role uncertainty occurs most often during times of significant change, creating unanticipated scenarios that dictate new requirements to address issues in the altered landscape. Without question, what has happened in the communications field during the last 20 years certainly qualifies as “significant change.” Landline telephony has gone from being the dominant communications method to an afterthought. Internet Protocol (IP) has transitioned from a nascent technology to the de facto standard for virtually all forms of communications.

With these changes, roles are being altered. IP differs from traditional circuit-switched technology in that routers and servers can be located anywhere, making IP traffic inherently interstate—and, of course, interstate issues typically are handled by the federal government. In addition, Congress has mandated that FCC encourage the deployment and adoption of broadband.

On the consumer side, the FCC has ruled that state laws limiting municipally owned broadband networks to serving only their municipality are not valid. The FCC did not overturn state laws banning municipal broadband networks entirely, but even this encroachment on state laws raised eyebrows among those in the regulatory community. How far would/could/should the FCC regulation extend?

In the public-safety arena, similar discussions surround 911. Last year, a software glitch resulted in a massive 911 outage for several hours in multiple states, and the state commissions in the affected areas realized that they were helpless to do much about it—the problem occurred in another state, where they lacked regulatory jurisdiction.

At the behest of state commissioners, the FCC has taken action and established new rules regarding 911 outage procedures. In addition, it has created the Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA), which is examining funding, cybersecurity and functional issues associated with the transition to the all-IP, next-generation 911 platform.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Sep 4, 2015

Donny you should research and write on the regional emergency communications working groups (RECCWG) sponsored by FEMA. State and local run with federal participation responsible for coordinating emergency communications issues between the three levels of government and more importantly between themselves. FIRSTNET is having enough problems simply trying to implement its small portion of the EM Comms issue don't ask them to take on another task they cant do when there is a well functioning group in place.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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