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FCC Reviews Comments on Network Resiliency

Commission looking to freshen disaster playbook

FCC, Federal Communications CommissionThe first batch of comments in the FCC’s “resilient networks” proceeding — possibly mandating broadcaster compliance to submit status reports after hurricanes and other natural disasters — are now in, and broadcasters are expressing concerns over the logistical challenges such a requirement could present.

Broadcaster participation in the web-based Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which is activated in limited emergency situations, has been voluntary since it was established in 2007. The online service outage reporting system has come under scrutiny because of the frequency of major storms and other disaster events.

NAB wrote in comments any move to require broadcaster participating in DIRS would be “unduly burdensome” and could actually undermine the FCC’s overriding goal of improving public safety by disrupting stations’ efforts to provide critical information following a disaster.

“Mandating DIRS filings would force stations to redirect their already-strained staff away from trying to maintain or restore service to fill out a government form,” NAB wrote in its comments submitted this week. “Many smaller stations simply lack the bandwidth to log in, assess their operational status, and complete DIRS reports in the midst of an emergency.”

[Previously: “FCC Disaster NPRM Discusses Backup Requirements”]

NAB adds: “Alternatively, if the FCC still believes that DIRS should be mandatory, perhaps the onus should be on government to create and fund an automated system that identifies which broadcast stations are operating during a disaster.”

The proposed rulemaking, which was released in October, also looks at ways to mitigate the effects of power outages to improve communications reliability following disasters, including the possibility of imposing mutual aid obligations on broadcasters to support others when facilities are damaged or destroyed and generators become inoperable.

The FCC notes in the NPRM the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework is a voluntary agreement developed by the wireless industry in 2016 to provide mutual aid. The new proposal, which focuses largely on cell site outages, proposes expanding the “framework” to include radio and television stations. Several commenters note the need to include broadcasters is unnecessary.

“Required mutual aid is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the already supportive relationships that naturally exist without FCC enforcement,” according to joint comments filed by the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Association of Radio Broadcasters of Puerto Rico. “In addition, requiring mutual aid between broadcasters and other industries covered by the Framework would serve little purpose. Broadcasters do not have sufficient personnel or the expertise to assist wireless and wireline telecommunications providers or cable providers recover from a disaster, and those industries do not have the expertise needed to help get damaged broadcast facilities back on the air.”

A coalition of state broadcast associations also summarily dismissed the need to require broadcasters to join the aforementioned framework: “There would be no benefit to such a move, and it would instead merely burden precious staff resources that are a fraction of what common carriers can bring to bear in such circumstances.”

The FCC proposal does raise the possibility of adopting backup power requirements for DIRS and NORS (Network Outage Reporting System) participants. The small carve out was included in the appendix section of the proposed rulemaking: “To the extent that the Commission were to adopt backup power requirements, providers subject to them, potentially including cable providers, Direct Broadcast Satellite providers, Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service, TV and radio broadcasters, Commercial Mobile Radio Service and other wireless service providers, could potentially be required to take steps to make their networks more resilient to power outages.”

That assertion led at least one observer to believe the commission could potentially require all broadcasters purchase backup power systems.

Gary Timm, chair of the Wisconsin State Emergency Communications Committee, filed comments as an individual on the matter: “If the Commission is suggesting requiring all broadcasters to acquire backup power generators on their own, this proposal should not even be considered due to the costs, particularly on small stations.”

Timm also notes there is no mention of federal funding for station generators in this current proposed rulemaking, “but that would be the most workable solution if the Commission is truly interested in broadcast station resiliency during power outages.”

NAB, which also discounts the need for additional rules regarding fuel backup for generators during times of crisis, concludes its comments touting the overall preparedness of radio and television broadcasters: “Given the Notice’s focus on the continuity of telecommunications services, it is important to highlight that broadcasting is likely the most reliable communications services during emergencies. Broadcasters, especially those in areas prone to severe weather conditions, plan and prepare throughout the year for disasters. They create, review, and practice their disaster response plans under various scenarios, enabling them to efficiently trigger such plans when disaster strikes.”

Reply comments to FCC docket 21-346 are due Jan. 14.

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