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FCC Working on Wireless Resiliency

Rosenworcel wants cellphones to work during emergencies

The failure of cellphones during events like hurricanes and wildfires presents numerous problems, and the FCC wants to do something about it.

The chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman is circulating draft rules to improve the reliability and resiliency of wireless networks in such situations.

“While wireless providers have worked hard to prevent outages and restore service during recent disasters, there were times when communications fell short and recovery took too long, which put lives at risk,” Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement released by her office.

She said that after Hurricane Ida, she and Commissioner Brendan Carr went to Louisiana and “heard firsthand where communications resiliency needs improvement.” The FCC then took comments on proposals to strengthen communications, and “now it’s time to act on what we’ve learned.”

Big wireless companies currently participate in a voluntary industry agreement to promote resilient communications during disasters. The draft rules would codify that and expand its applicability to all facilities-based wireless providers.

“Among other changes, the rules would require facilities-based wireless providers to enter into mutual aid arrangements that enable them to request, or receive a request, for assistance during emergencies,” Rosenworcel’s office stated.

“The rules would also require that facilities-based wireless providers enter into bilateral roaming agreements in advance of disasters to help the public communicate. In addition, the rules would expand the triggers for activation of these provisions, and provide for critical testing and reporting on wireless roaming implementation during disasters.

Carr, a Republican, issued a statement saying he was “very pleased” to work with the chairwoman, a Democrat, on this issue. “I want to commend Chairwoman Rosenworcel for her leadership and for bringing forward for a vote a decision that advances these interests.”

Carr said the planned approach has broad support from public safety and first responder groups including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.