CPUC “wireless resiliency” plan targets mobile carriers, doesn’t exempt WISPs

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc fire threat map 11jun2020

Click for the interactive fire threat map.

Mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – will have to install emergency generators at their cell sites in high fire danger areas, if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a draft decision offered last week by president Marybel Batjer. They’ll also have to meet other requirements intended to insure “wireless resiliency” during emergencies, natural or man-made, including public safety power shut-offs.

The proposed rules would apply to “facilities-based wireless providers” and require them “to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage to provide access to 911, 211, to receive emergency notifications, and access web browsing for emergency notices”.

As it’s commonly used in the industry, and by the CPUC when it refers to “broadband providers”, “facility-based” is a term that includes fixed wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). The hundred-plus page draft doesn’t explicitly limit its definition of facilities-based wireless providers to mobile carriers, although the context clearly does. There’s no mention of WISPs and the legalese leans heavily on the CPUC’s authority over telephone service, even to the point of anachronistically asserting “the public has an expectation that they will hear a dial tone on their wireless device”.

On the other hand, if the intent was to apply the rules specifically to mobile carriers – a jurisdictionally fraught notion – it would have been relatively simple to do so. Instead, the draft cites the CPUC’s role in regulating 911 services (which can be delivered via mobile and VoIP technology), issuing licenses – certificates of public convenience and necessity (CPCNs) – to telecoms companies of all kinds, and its “broad jurisdiction” over “other communications utilities”.

Going forward, it could be argued that a WISP that holds a CPCN or offers VoIP service – or maybe just provides “web browsing for emergency notices” – also must meet wireless resiliency standards. There’s no clear authority for the CPUC to regulate WISPs as such, and it hasn’t done so. The proposed decision pushes further into the grey area, though.

More clarity could be on the way. Senate bill 1058 would extend emergency service obligations to “every Internet service provider” in California. We’ll know later this week whether Californian legislative leaders deem it worthy of consideration by the full senate. And the CPUC is just getting started. The proposed wireless resiliency order says a future commission decision “will consider promulgating resiliency requirements for other telecommunications providers”.

Wireless resiliency, according to the draft, means…

The ability to recover from or adjust to adversity or change through an array of strategies including, but not limited to: backup power, redundancy, network hardening, temporary facilities, communication and coordination with other utilities, emergency responders, the public and finally, preparedness planning.

Specifically, wireless providers would have to install back-up power capable of keeping their networks up for at least 72 hours, but only in the parts of their service areas that are classified as “tier 2 and tier 3 high fire threat districts”. As the CPUC’s interactive map shows, that includes most of the California coast, the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades and large swaths of the southland.

All wireless providers, not just those in high fire threat areas, would have to file resiliency plans “that detail their ability to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage during a disaster or a commercial power grid outage”, as well as “annual emergency operations plans”.

The commission could vote on the proposed rules as soon as mid-July. In the meantime, it’ll be accepting public comments on the draft.

Proposed Decision of Commissioner Batjer Adopting Wireless Provider Resiliency Strategies, 11 June 2020