By Donny Jackson
FCC commissioners have voted unanimously to approve rules that mandate affected service providers submit Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) reports daily that outline network outages after a disaster and expands the requirement to include cable wireline, wireline and voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that DIRS has existed for more than a decade, but communications providers have provided this “absolutely vital” network-operations status only on a voluntary basis—a situation that can be problematic.
“When a storm hits, (a filed DIRS report) means we have information that we can share with other federal agencies—as well as state and local first responders—to assist those on the ground with facts about where disconnections have occurred, where operations are vulnerable, and where restoration efforts are required,” Rosenworcel said during the FCC’s open meeting last week.
“But there are gaps in this data. Not every provider files this data with us. Not every technology is covered by our rules. I think these gaps are unacceptable. Everyone needs communications to work in crisis. So we need to close them. Today, we start that process.”
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr reflected on a trip that he and Roseworcel took to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in describing the importance of accurate DIRS information.
“One of the things we learned was the vital importance of connectivity, particularly for 911 and connection to PSAPs [public-safety answering points],” Carr said during the meeting. It is important that the FCC use “the right regulatory approach to make sure we can provide the information necessary to ensure that these communications either continue to work or are restored as quickly as possible.”
The new rules stipulate that providers filing DIRS reports do not have to make submissions to the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) for the same geographic area and time, as those reports are largely duplicative.
Rosenworcel described the order as “a terrific first step,” but she noted that some key communications—for example, broadband Internet services—are not covered by the FCC’s rules.
With this in mind, FCC commissioners also approved a proposed rulemaking that seeks comments about whether the DIRS rules should apply to other network providers, such as TV and radio broadcasters, satellite providers and broadband Internet providers.
In addition, the FCC seeks comment on whether the FirstNet Authority should be required to make NORS and DIRS filings for its nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being built and maintained by AT&T. AT& T historically has filed NORS and DIRS reports and will be required to do so under the new rules, but the FirstNet Authority has not filed NORS and DIRS reports to date.
Another key question asked in the proposed rulemaking item is whether service providers should disclose the location of “mobile recovery assets”—for example, SatCOLTs, COWs and other deployable solutions—during a disaster response.