FCC proposes to extend outage reporting to broadband
FCC commissioners last week approved a notice of proposed rulemaking that calls for voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers to report outages of at least 30 minutes in an effort to make the nation's 911 emergency-calling system more reliable.
Although the FCC requires VoIP providers to offer 911 service to customers, VoIP providers have not been subject to the outage-reporting requirements that traditional wireline and wireless carriers must meet. This information provided valuable situational awareness to first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
However, with almost 30% of residential telephone subscriptions using VoIP — typically over a broadband connection currently not subject to outage-reporting mandates — such information would have limited value, Genachowski said.
"The American communications landscape is changing. Unfortunately, our existing outage-reporting requirements extend only to services delivered over legacy communications technologies," Genachowski said. "So, if Hurricane Katrina were to happen again, or if there was another attack on American soil, we simply wouldn't have the facts to ascertain the impact on our critical communications infrastructure, even though we had that kind of information in the past. We wouldn't know if people could call their hospital, their fire stations or their local police departments to get help."
Genachowski noted that Japan's regulatory counterpart to the FCC receives outage reports from broadband providers, and that provided important information to officials and first responders following the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit that country in March.
While no one on the FCC opposed initiating the proceeding or its need, Commissioner Robert McDowell dissented in part, because he does not believe the commission's jurisdiction will allow it to enforce the terms of the proposed rulemaking.
"In my view, we do not have Congress's authority to act as suggested," McDowell said.
Genachowski said he believes a clause in the Communications Act giving the FCC authority to establish rules regarding communications that enhance the safety of the public is enough to support the proposed action. Commissioner Michael Copps said this interpretation is not ideal but echoed the chairman's sentiment.
"Our charge to protect the safety of the American people is clear and should never have to hinge on semantics or distinctions without a difference," Copps said.