2 Conflicting Views on Whether WPS Rules Should Change
Friday, September 07, 2018 | Comments

Two groups filed conflicting comments in the FCC’s request for input on whether to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to revise its rules for wireless priority service (WPS).

The FCC notice followed a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) request for the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to update the WPS rules.

TechFreedom, which calls itself a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to promoting the progress of technology that improves the human condition, said that unless the FCC updates WPS rules, there is significant danger that states may try to establish their own rules. Such state regulation “would raise grave constitutional concerns about federalism,” the group said.

The group urged the FCC to make clear that the WPS and other rules related to public-safety communications are free of net neutrality concerns. TechFreedom also said the FCC must “make abundantly clear that the WPS rules are a creature of federal communications policy and that states are pre-empted from adopting any rules that conflict with the federal regulations.”

Currently, the WPS rules do not allow providers to terminate or degrade ongoing calls or data communications. NTIA requested that the FCC modify the rules to allow such conduct in emergency situations, the group said.

“TechFreedom supports a study of this proposal but at this point cannot endorse it,” the comment said. “We are concerned that if the public suddenly finds that its important (but nonemergency) communications are disrupted in a time of emergency, the ripple effects on the communications networks could be disastrous. Most importantly, will people whose calls are suddenly cut off during a flood or fire turn instantly to the 9-1-1 system and therefore swamp PSAPs (public-safety answering points) reporting the ‘emergency’ of their calls to loved ones being cut off?”

The NTIA petition urged the FCC to allow providers to voluntarily extend priority access from voice and low data communications to all data communications used by national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) users. NTIA raised the issue of whether the status of broadband internet access service (BIAS) classified as an information service rather than a telecommunications service should be changed. TechFreedom agreed that the FCC can establish clear policies in this area and work with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ensure that no “unintended consequences arise from extending the WPS rules to BIAS services.”

Separately and conversely, AT&T said the commission should not hamper the well-functioning WPS with prescriptive new substantive rules. “If the commission proceeds with a rulemaking in response to the NTIA petition, it should employ a light touch in developing any new WPS rules,” AT&T said. “Indeed, many of NTIA’s requested changes to the WPS regime can be, and historically have been, addressed contractually, rather than through the imposition of new rules.”

The NTIA petition raised the question of whether priority access and pre-emption of both voice and data services are allowed under WPS rules. While federal law does not prohibit priority access and pre-emption, the FCC may wish to clarify this point if there is confusion, the carrier said.

AT&T said the petition for rulemaking was released amid ongoing collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). “The commission should wait to revise the WPS rules until these discussions are complete to ensure that any new rules will not impair the utility of either program,” AT&T said.

Reply comments are due Sept. 7.

The TechFreedom comments are here and the AT&T filing is here.

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