About a dozen years ago, following on the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Katrina, the FCC adopted regulations requiring local telephone providers and mobile providers to have emergency backup power for their networks – only to have this decision overturned by the courts. Since then, the FCC has not proposed network backup power requirements (although it later adopted regulations dealing with backup power for CPE), but some states have regulations on the books – at least for some providers. And now, with hurricanes blowing down communications networks in the islands and southeast U.S. and fires threatening networks (and network power) in many states, regulators’ concerns about communications network resiliency are again growing.
Signs of Change
So far, the FCC has addressed these concerns by relying on providers to comply voluntarily with best practices for network resiliency – such as the Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework, first adopted in 2016. But, this past September, in providing for additional universal service support for hurricane-damaged communications networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the FCC created a new “Network Resiliency” factor to be weighed in the competitive bidding process. Fiber counts for more than copper. Buried lines count for more than aerial. Will the FCC extend this paradigm to other universal service support programs?
What to watch?
In addition to federal action, the California PUC has scheduled an en banc session this coming January called the “Future of California’s Communications Grid.” It will explore such issues as the effects of the increasing frequency and size of natural disasters on communications networks and future needs relating to network resiliency, reliability, affordability, and consumer protection. The en banc will be followed by workshops targeting individual issues – all of which holds the potential for new regulatory intervention. And, where California goes, other regulators may follow.
What this means to you?
What does this mean for communications providers? Are more regulatory requirements to harden networks and to speed recovery on the horizon? Possibly. Government policymakers consider communications networks to be critical infrastructure, and they have shown they will act to ensure these networks are always on. Therefore, it would be a good idea to monitor closely the California proceedings. It also may be wise to consider what it will take to increase your network resiliency and even begin to take steps in that direction.
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