FCC Overturns Copper Retirement Notice Requirements and Other Consumer Protections

On November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted an Order rolling back consumer protections in connection with the retirement of copper lines and the discontinuance of traditional telephone services. The FCC took this action even though the alarm industry, consumer advocates and members of Congress objected that the actions could lead to consumers losing their telephone service and could adversely impact alarm service.

The FCC’s Order:

  • eliminates notice to customers when copper facilities will be retired;
  • allows local exchange carriers (LECs), apparently, to notify some customers of upcoming network changes and copper retirements;
  • reduces the notice that must be provided to interconnecting carriers;
  • allows LECs to discontinue low speed services on an expedited basis;
  • appears to allow LECs to discontinue service even if there is not a replacement service that is as good as the discontinued service.

The FCC also adopted a Further Notice seeking comment on whether a single interconnected VoIP service (without any service quality or other requirements) should enable streamlined discontinuance of legacy voice service. It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should streamline discontinuances for higher-speed data services.

As TMA’s Alarm Industry Communications Committee reviews the Order, TMA members should record and report to TMA (communications@tma.us) if they have experienced an increase in the number of alarm signals that do not go through; the area where there are problems; the cause of the problem; and, if known, whether there is a copper retirement in the area where it occurs.

A more detailed analysis of the Order and Further Notice will be provided soon.

FCC Adopts NPRM, NOI, and Request for Comment on Copper Retirement, Section 214 Discontinuance and State Law Preemption

The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Notice of Inquiry (NOI), and Request for Comment outlining proposed changes to current rules regarding copper retirement and the discontinuance of telecommunications service and seeking comment on the preemption of state laws governing the maintenance or retirement of copper facilities “to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.”

The FCC’s NOI addresses state laws inhibiting broadband deployment.  Comments on the NOI are due June 12 and reply comments are due July 10. 

In the NOI, the FCC seeks comment on  adopting rules that would help decrease State-sponsored impediments to broadband deployment. Most importantly for the alarm  industry, the FCC seeks comment on “whether there are state laws governing the maintenance or retirement of copper facilities that serve as a barrier to deploying next-generation technologies and services that the Commission might seek to preempt.”  As examples of rules that may be barriers to deploying next-generation technologies the FCC states that “certain states require utilities or specific carriers to maintain adequate equipment and facilities” and others “empower public utilities commissions, either acting on their own authority or in response to a complaint,  to require utilities or specific carriers to maintain, repair, or improve facilities or equipment or to have in place a written preventative maintenance program.”  The  FCC seeks comment on:

  • The impact of state legacy service quality and copper facilities maintenance regulations.
  • The impact of state laws restricting the retirement of copper facilities.
  • Whether Section 253 of the Act provides the FCC with authority to preempt state laws and regulations governing service quality, facilities maintenance, or copper retirement that are impeding fiber deployment, including whether such laws have the effect of prohibiting the ability of incumbent LECs to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service and whether such laws are not competitively neutral or not necessary to preserve and advance universal service, protect the public safety and welfare, ensure the continued quality of telecommunications services, and safeguard the rights of consumers.

The FCC also asks for comment on:

  • Eliminating excessive delays in negotiations and approvals for rights-of-way agreements and permitting for telecommunications services.
  • Prohibiting excessive fees and other costs that may have the effect of prohibiting the provision of telecommunications service.
  • Prohibiting unreasonable conditions or requirements in the context of granting access to rights-of-way, permitting, construction, or licensure related to the provision of telecommunications services.

In the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on proposed changes to the copper retirement and  Section 214 rules to discontinue services.  The comment dates for the issues raised in the NPRM have not been established.

The FCC proposes a number of revisions to the Part 51 network change disclosure rules and the rules applicable to copper retirement.  Under one proposal, the FCC would repeal Section 51.332 of the rules and return to the prior short-term network change notification rules for copper retirement.  Under this proposal,  an incumbent LEC would be allowed to retire copper facilities 90 days after FCC issuance of a public notice and without providing direct notice to retail customers.

Under a second proposal, the FCC would eliminate all differences between copper retirement and other network change notice requirements, rendering copper retirement changes subject to the same long-term or, where applicable, short-term network change notice requirements as all other types of network changes subject to Section 251(c)(5).  Under this proposal, an incumbent LEC would be allowed to retire copper facilities 10 days after FCC issuance of a public notice and without providing direct notice to retail customers.

Under a third proposal, the FCC would “retain but amend Section 51.332 to streamline the process, provide greater flexibility, and reduce burdensome requirements for incumbent LEC copper retirements.”  Among other things, the FCC seeks comment on whether the rule should be changed to require an incumbent LEC to serve notice only to telephone exchange service providers that directly interconnect with the incumbent LEC’s network and not retail customers and reduce the waiting period to 90 days from 180 days after the FCC releases its public notice before the planned copper retirement can be implemented.

Similarly, the NPRM proposes a number of measures to shorten timeframes and eliminate protections when an incumbent LEC seeks to discontinue the provision of a telecommunications service pursuant to Section 214 of the Act.  Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on:

  • Reducing the Section 214(a) discontinuance process for applications that seek authorization to stop accepting new customers for the service while maintaining service to existing customers (a.k.a. “grandfathering”) to 10 days.
  • Changing the list of eligible services for grandfathering.
  • Adopting a streamlined uniform comment period of 10 days and an auto-grant period of 31 days for both dominant and non-dominant carriers for discontinuance of services that have been grandfathered for at least 180 days.
  • Whether the FCC should conclude that Section 214(a) discontinuances will not adversely affect the present or future public conveniences and necessity, provided that fiber, IP-based, or wireless services are available to the affected community and what types of fiber, IP-based or wireless services would constitute acceptable alternatives.

Read more and submit comments.

Act by August 1: Annual AICC Communications Survey

AICC Chair Louis T. Fiore has issued a call for participation in the annual AICC Communications Survey. The results of the survey assist the AICC in planning messaging and strategy for legislative efforts involving Congress and the FCC.

This survey, now in its fifth year, focuses on the percentages of monitored accounts using POTS (plain old telephone systems), VoIP digital dialers (DACT), or other technologies either as a sole method of transmission or in conjunction with another technology. The ten-question survey will take no more than a few minutes to complete.

Survey participation is not limited to AICC or CSAA members. Industry-wide input will strengthen the findings. Input is anonymous and individual answers will be kept confidential.

Results will be presented at the September 2016 AICC meeting.

AICC: Wireless Disaster Resilience and Information Sharing Proposal

AICCLogofullcolorWireless Industry Seeks to Avoid Unwanted Regulation Following System Failures after Superstorm Sandy

On April 28, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on the ex parte presentation made by wireless providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon, together with CTIA, in which they announce a “Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework” described as “a voluntary initiative that will enhance coordination and communication to advance wireless service continuity and information sharing during and after emergencies and disasters.”

In the letter, the carriers detail a five-pronged approach to enhance industry coordination to “facilitate greater network resiliency and faster restoration of service” which they assert will “obviate the need for legislative action or inflexible rules that could have unintended consequences.”  Specifically, the five prongs include: (1) providing for reasonable roaming under disaster arrangements when technically feasible; (2) fostering mutual aid during emergencies; (3) enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration; (4) increasing consumer readiness and preparation; and (5) improving public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status.  Under each prong, the carriers provide specific actions that they will undertake designed to “enhance coordination among wireless carriers and all key stakeholders, improving information sharing and making wireless network resiliency more robust.”

The Disaster Resilience Proposal is clearly an effort by the wireless industry to avoid unwanted regulation in the wake of notorious system failures after Superstorm Sandy and other recent disasters. Since many alarm companies rely on the existing cellular network for customer premise alarm radios, as well as communications with field personnel, this matter is of obvious interest to the alarm industry. Since the FCC is fond of adopting “industry consensus” proposals on thorny issues that draw a lot of public complaint (such as network outages), AICC and alarm providers should review the proposed approach to see if it is something that they can live with (or if it instead ignores the need for protecting and rapidly restoring wireless alarm operations).

Opposition comments, or suggestions on how to remedy any shortfalls in the industry proposal, can be submitted to the FCC. AICC is planning on providing feedback on this matter to the FCC by the end of June.  Please contact CSAA Counsel John Prendergast at jap@bloostonlaw.com if you have any concerns to include in such comments.

FCC Announces New Requirements for FCC Registration Numbers – Effective Date is Sept. 1, 2016

If you wish to conduct business with the FCC, you must first register through the FCC’s Commission Registration System (“CORES”). To register, you must create a username and password. This username will uniquely identify you in the CORES system. You will also use this username to access CORES to update your FRN information and reset/update your FRN Password. CORES will now require FRNs to have an Administrator(s). This user(s) will manage which users have access to the FRN and what user role they will have. IF YOU CURRENTLY HAVE AN FCC LICENSE, YOU HAVE ALREADY REGISTERED.

A filer, licensee, certificate holder, or any entity sending payments to the FCC is considered to be doing business with the FCC and must, therefore, have a registered username and FRN.

(Petitioners or non-feeable complainants are not required to have a registered username and FRN.)

 In an effort to ensure security of FCC registration numbers, the FCC is changing  CORES in order to implement several user-specific identification requirements. In addition to enhancing security, the FCC believes that these changes will also make the FCC’s CORES system more user friendly.

 These changes will:

  •  Implement a requirement for existing and new users to designate user-specific IDs (user names) for access to FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs) and related records.
  •  Allow registrants to establish multiple user names for each FRN with different levels of access. In this regard, the first user establishing access to an FRN will have administrator privileges with the capability to limit the level of access to all other users.

(By default, the first user establishing access to an existing FRN will be granted administrative responsibilities over the account and will have the ability to limit the level of access for future users, if desired.) 

  • Require users to provide a valid e-mail address for online access to the system.
  •  Establish password-recovery security questions specific to each user.

 Some of the changes being implemented by the FCC were proposed almost five and a half years ago in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in MD Docket No. 10-234 (released December 7, 2010). Nonetheless, the FCC is making certain changes from the NPRM and others without notice and comment rulemaking since the changes are considered administrative in nature and not subject to the rulemaking process. The FCC believes that the changes are necessary to strengthen the security of its records (including social security numbers and federal Employer Identification Numbers) and make CORES more user friendly as well as strengthen the FCC’s ability to comply with various statutes and regulations governing debt collection activities and the collection of personal information.

The Commission will be implementing a pilot launch on April 29, 2016 for a four month period ending on August 31, 2016 in order to test its proposed system and obtain feedback from users of the CORES system. The pilot program will initially be targeted to users of the Commission’s Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS) as well as business and governmental entities that have a significant number of registered FRNs associated with a single EIN as well as the top 100 Regulatory Fee payers by FRN. The pilot program initially will not be available for most. The FCC anticipates that the updated version of CORES will be available to the full FCC user community as of September 1, 2016  at https://www.fcc.gov/cores.The current version of CORES will remain available through September 30, 2016 at https://apps.fcc.gov/coresWeb/publicHome.do

Additional details about these modifications can be found on the CORES website at  https://apps.fcc.gov/cores/publicHome.do?help=true

Ownership Changes and Internal Corporate Reorganizations May Require FCC Approval

Alarm service providers and equipment manufacturers should keep in mind FCC approval is required for most ownership changes.  If radio licenses are involved, prior FCC approval is generally required, although there may be ways to significantly reduce the usual 90 to 120 day approval time, using the FCC’s “conditional temporary licensing” mechanism (depending on the type of licenses involved).  For equipment manufacturers, the FCC generally must be notified of ownership changes that affect FCC equipment certifications within 60 days after the closing.  But some manufacturers also have radio licenses (such as demonstration licenses) that may require prior approval filings.

These entities should also keep in mind that many types of reorganizations, estate planning and tax savings activities and other transactions require prior FCC approval. Companies planning on such transactions should determine whether they must file an application for FCC approval, and obtain a grant, before closing the transaction.  Transactions requiring prior FCC approval include (but are not limited to):

  • The distribution of stock to family members in connection with estate planning, tax and other business activities, if there are changes to the control levels discussed above; Any sale of a company that holds FCC licenses;
  • Any sale, transfer or lease of an FCC license;
  • A change in the form of organization from a corporation to an LLC, or vice versa, even though such changes are not regarded as a change in entity under state law.
  • Any transfer of stock that results in a shareholder attaining a 50% or greater ownership level, or a shareholder relinquishing a 50% or greater ownership level;
  • Any transfer of stock, partnership or LLC interests that would have a cumulative effect on 50% or more of the ownership.
  • The creation of a holding company or trust to hold the stock of an FCC license holder;
  • The creation of new classes of stockholders that affect the control structure of an FCC license holder.
  • Certain minority ownership changes can require FCC approval (e.g., transfer of a minority stock interest, giving the recipient extraordinary voting rights or powers through officer or board position).
  • The conversion of a corporate entity or partnership into another form of organization under state law – e.g., from corporation to LLC or partnership to LLP and vice versa.

–Contributed by CSAA Counsel John Prendergast (Blooston, Mordofsky, Dickens, Duffy, and Prendergast, Washington, DC)

FCC Proposes Fines for RF Radiation Violations

By Lou Fiore, Chair, Alarm Industry Communications Committee

At our December 3, 2015 AICC meeting, AICC Counsel John Prendergast reported on FCC proposed fines for RF radiation violations on rooftops against two communications companies. This, of course, evoked concerns by some in attendance about these issues regarding the security industry’s use of cellular and private wireless data radio systems, such as AES-Intellinet, CRN Wireless and cellular devices used by the alarm industry.  This concern could be relevant at both customer locations as well as rooftops where IP links and repeaters are located.

The bottom line is that because of their low power and duty cycle, it is virtually certain that most private wireless systems provided by AES-Intellinet and CRN Wireless meet all current FCC exposure requirements for protecting the general population, company employees or roof-top service personnel.  Wireless system users should nonetheless review this matter as part of their equipment evaluation and purchase process. These data radios are compliant if used correctly, and in other cases, such as higher powered voice systems, relatively simple measures can render them compliant. Correct labeling of the radios and, for higher powered radios, proper RF warning signs can be important to guard against FCC violations.

The FCC rules require all licensees to comply with RF radiation exposure limits. These rules provide guidelines and procedures for licensees to evaluate the environmental effects of RF exposure from FCC regulated transmitters. These rules include Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) limits for electric and magnetic field strength and power density for transmitters operating from 300 kHz to 100 GHz. Most “premises-to-central station” wireless data devices operate in the 460 MHz private radio band and the 800 MHz and higher cellular bands, and are therefore subject to the MPE limits.  MPE is defined as the electric and magnetic field strength to which a person may be exposed without harmful effect and with an acceptable safety factor. This is the limit set in a report issued by the FCC. There are two such criteria, one for the general public and another for alarm company installers, service personnel working on these systems and other contractors that may be working near the radio antennas (HVAC, etc.). MPE is computed as the average power level against an area of skin and is shown as milliwatts per a square centimeter (mW/cm2).

Based on information provided by the equipment manufacturers, the computations below are designed to size up the compliance of most private wireless radio system equipment operating on the designated central station “offset” frequencies under the FCC rules. As always, you will want to verify the compliance of your individual system, including how it is configured, with the manufacturer and your installation vendor.

The exposure limits for cellular equipment are more complicated and will be discussed in this forum at a later time, although it is safe to assume that cellular units, installed according to the manufacturers’ instructions, should also be safe for much of the same reasons.

In 1996, the FCC adopted new guidelines and procedures for evaluating environmental effects of RF emissions. The 1996 guidelines incorporate two tiers of exposure limits based on whether exposure occurs in an occupational or “controlled” situation or whether the general population is exposed in an “uncontrolled” situation. These categories were based on an FCC Report entitled “Evaluating Compliance with FCC Guidelines for Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields”, also known as OET BULLETIN 65.  In 2013, the FCC adopted clarifications to its RF rules, and proposed other rule changes aimed at a further tightening of these restrictions.

It should also be noted that under Rule Section 1.1307(b), a Private Land Mobile Radio Services operation is currently exempt from performing an RF compliance evaluation if it uses a building-mounted antenna, and its power is less than 1000 watts ERP.  For a tower mounted antenna, it is exempt if the power is less than 1000 watts ERP, and the antenna is more than 10 meters above ground.  The FCC has proposed to move away from these “categorical exemptions” toward a single formula to be calculated for each radio; but it is not known whether and how soon this rule change will be adopted.  It also bears mention that, if the FCC determines that a rooftop or other location is generating excessive RF radiation, stations using that location can be dragged into the compliance effort if they contribute at least 5% to the RF environment of the site, even if they were exempt from measuring RF compliance.

The two tiers of exposure are defined below:

General population/uncontrolled exposure.

 For FCC purposes, uncontrolled exposure applies to human exposure to RF fields when the general public is exposed or in which persons who are exposed as a consequence of their employment may not be made fully aware of the potential for exposure or cannot exercise control over their exposure. Therefore, members of the general public always fall under this category when exposure is not employment-related.

Occupational/controlled exposure.

 For FCC purposes, controlled exposure applies to human exposure to RF fields when persons are exposed as a consequence of their employment and have been made fully aware of the potential for exposure (and therefore can exercise control over their exposure).  This information may be provided to workers in writing and/or verbally. Occupational/controlled exposure limits also apply where exposure is of a transient nature as a result of incidental passage through a location where exposure levels may be above general population/uncontrolled limits (see definition above), as long as the exposed person has been made fully aware of the potential for exposure and can exercise control over his or her exposure by leaving the area or by some other appropriate means.  Warning signs are generally used to advise transient persons of the need to be mindful of RF exposure situations.

At the frequencies used by AES Intellinet and CRN Wireless alarm systems in the 460 to 466 MHz area, the MPE for controlled and uncontrolled exposure compute as 1.555 mW/cm2 and 0.315 mW/cm2 respectively.

Power levels for these systems are rather low, both with a prescribed power output of 2 watts. The power reduces quickly as one moves away from the antenna.

But a very important factor that must be considered is duty cycle. An AES alarm radio unit checking in once per day has a duty cycle of 0.0000057, yielding an average power output of 0.0000114 watts (11.4 microwatts).  CRN Wireless alarm radio systems operate as a one-way network. The typical duty cycle for such systems is 0.000017, yielding an average power of  0.000034 watts (34 milliwatts). These both yield an MPE of 0.0001 mW/cm2     which is well under the FCC’s MPE criteria.

If you consider an AES Intellinet customer unit relaying eight of its neighboring units, which is a feature of this system, this will yield an average power output of 90 microwatts and an MPE of 0.0002 mW/cm2, still well under the FCC’s MPE criteria.

For AES Intellinet IP Link base stations and CRN Wireless repeaters, the duty cycle is substantially higher because of the fact that these units operate as gateways for multiple customer units. For example, for a system with 600 customers, considered a computational target load, the duty cycle is 0.00342, yielding an average power output of 0.00684 watts (6.8 milliwatts) for AES IP Links and 0.011, yielding an average power output of 0.0229 watts (23 milliwatts) for CRN Wireless. Even at this higher rate, the average power is still very low. This computes to a MPE’s of 0.012 mw/ cm2 and  0.052 mw/ cm2 for AES and CRN respectively, well under the FCC’s MPE criteria.

These figures, both at the customer’s premises and base station locations should prove to be a worst case scenario, since they were computed using a 9 dbi antenna, which is generally the maximum gain antenna used. So, a lower gain antenna, which is used more often, would reduce these power levels even more.

So what does this all mean for alarm companies?

At the frequency where private wireless radio systems units operate (between 460 and 466 MHz.), the number derived from the equations given by the FCC compute MPEs well below the FCC’s criteria.

Let’s consider the customer locations. Using the frequency, power level, duty cycle and antenna gain, the MFE would not be an issue unless a customer (or alarm company personnel servicing the equipment on the costumer’s premises) would be constantly within one inch from center of antenna.

With the antenna mounted on the control unit or remoted (to attain some height), there should normally be absolutely no issue. Although the distance limit shown is absurdly low, care should be taken to ensure that by some quirk of installation, no one is normally, constantly located within one inch of the antenna. The subscriber cabinet usually provides this clearance, but installations that are in the middle of the living space should be avoided.  Of course, alarm panels and radio units are generally installed in a closet, attic or other space that is not a nuisance to the occupants and invisible to a would be intruder, so there is usually no risk of prolonged close exposure.

Let’s consider the AES Intellinet IP Link and CRN Wireless repeater locations. Using the frequency, power level, duty cycle and antenna gain, the MPE would not be an issue unless general population or service personnel would be constantly within 6 inches from center of antenna.

However, these locations are usually remote from the general population and are often mounted high on a rooftop in such a manner that such contact would be impossible anyway. It will be advisable to make sure this is there is some physical barrier between the antenna and a path or location where humans can be present. With a limit of 6 inches, this should be rather easy to attain.

Summary

With a greater focus by the public and the FCC on RF exposure created by prolonged use of cellular handsets right next to the human ear, it is important to ensure that wireless alarm systems comply with FCC RF rules.  The good news is that alarm radios generally are not designed to be used next to the human body, so compliance can be easily achieved in the vast majority of cases.  Nonetheless, alarm service providers should work with the manufacturers and installers to make sure newer RF rules such as equipment labeling and (in the case of higher powered rooftop or tower mounted radios) warning signs, worker instructions and barriers are correctly observed, and to stay on top of any other requirements the FCC may adopt in the future, in response to its 2013 rule change proposals.