Friday, August 09, 2013

Cautionary Considerations Regarding FCC Outage Reporting Regulations

The FCC is now considering a proposed rulemaking thath would impose cell tower outage reporting requirements on wireless carriers. The proposal is not yet public. But according to TRDaily (July 26), the FCC's proposal is similar to one made by Consumers Union. It would require carriers to report to the FCC "non-functioning cell towers in each county, and the percentage of the carrier’s cell towers in that county that the number represents.” Apparently, the FCC would make the information public.
Both the wireless carrier and wireless infrastructure industries have raised opposition to the FCC's proposed rulemaking – or any proposed rulemaking, at this time – in ex parte filings
Again, the precise content of the FCC's proposed rulemaking has yet to be unveiled. But on a related note, my Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper "The FCC Should Keep Broadband Free From Analog-Era Outage Regulations," addressed concerns about a 2011 FCC proposed rulemaking to extend legacy network outage reporting requirements to VoIP providers and broadband ISPs.
One of the points I made in that paper was that regulations originating in the analog era of legacy telephone service are often ill-suited to today's competitive and multi-layered digital communications market. For instance:
Unlike circuit-switched systems that establish a dedicated transmission path between end users, broadband packet-switched systems use no specific path but instead use numerous paths across networks. As a result, packet-switching can avoid the effects of problems in one part of a network and allow end-users to communicate with little or no discernable disruption. Furthermore, broadband networks have built-in redundancies in infrastructure and equipment such as fiber rings and routers that automatically reroute information-storing data packets in the event of network disruption. Redundant cell towers and fiber backhaul paths to switching centers are also among the network reliability features employed by wireless broadband ISPs. Backup power supplies are also routinely used by broadband ISPs.
From a consumer standpoint, imposing new regulatory requirements on wireless carriers or infrastructure providers for equipment or other network outages offers no benefit where consumers do not actually face any loss of service or significant degradation of service. But such regulations would impose costs on carriers and infrastructure providers, and those costs would likely be passed on to consumers in the long run.
One other concern I raised with the 2011 FCC proposed rulemaking on VoIP and broadband ISP outage reporting was the lack of cost-benefit justification. It remains to be seen if the FCC's proposed rulemaking regarding wireless outage reporting is accompanied by any cost-benefit analysis.