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The FCC has adopted a Report and Order that updates priority service rules aimed at ensuring that first responder and emergency personnel have communications during disasters.

The order involves two programs that are led by the Department of Homeland Security. The Telecommunications Service Priority (TSP) System requires service providers to prioritize the provisioning and restoration of wired communications facilities and the Wireless Priority Service (WPS) is a voluntary program focusing on service providers prioritizing voice calls on wireless networks.

The FCC plays a regulatory role in the programs. But the rules under which it does so were more than 20 years old, however, and are based on legacy technology.

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The Report and Order adopted on May 19 aims to reflect the current marketplace and governance framework and to “authorize explicitly the prioritization of next-generation technology.”

The FCC has:

  • Clarified service providers’ authorization to prioritize data, video, and IP-based voice services for eligible users on a voluntary basis.
  • Removed outdated requirements that may cause confusion or impede the use of IP-based technologies.
  • Updated the rules to reflect the current administrative responsibilities for the priority services program.
  • Expanded WPS eligibility to additional users, particularly those with response and restoration roles.

DHS also heads the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS), a voluntary program that involves service providers prioritizing voice calls on landline networks.

The world of telecommunications and its efforts to ensure public safety have evolved greatly during the past two decades. Most notably was the establishment of FirstNet, a public-private initiative led by AT&T.

On the other side of the coin, however, the proliferation of alternative ways of communication is challenging. For instance, on December 27, 2018, CenturyLink experienced a 911 outage. A report on the incident was released the following year. It cited the “tech transition” for the outage.

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