FCC to Propose National Crisis Hotline, Tackle Mid-Band Spectrum Items at December Meeting

The FCC plans to follow last month’s major 911 location accuracy item with another significant public safety rulemaking at its next meeting scheduled for December 12, 2019. Under the FCC’s plan, all telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP service providers would be required to transmit calls to 988 to 24-hour crisis services maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, the FCC anticipates launching two rulemakings aimed at opening up more mid-band spectrum for commercial and unlicensed uses to meet growing consumer demand for wireless broadband. The meeting agenda also includes an item addressing contentious issues surrounding intercarrier switched access charges. Moreover, the FCC will vote on three enforcement actions at the December meeting. Although, per normal practice, the agency provided no specifics on the planned enforcement actions, enforcement meeting items normally entail large fines in high-profile FCC focus areas like robocalling. While not as jam-packed as prior meetings, the December agenda underscores the FCC’s steadfast focus on public safety and spectrum reallocation in 2019.

You will find more information on the most significant proposed December meeting items after the break:

998 Crisis Hotline: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would seek comment on designating 988 as the dialing code for a national suicide and mental health crisis hotline. The proposed rules would require telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP service providers (including one-way interconnected VoIP service providers) to transmit all 988 calls to the hotline. If adopted, the proposed rules would give service providers 18 months to complete any necessary equipment upgrades/replacements to enable 988 hotline dialing. The FCC would note that 988 currently is not assigned as an area code and presents fewer hotline implementation issues when compared to other potential three-digit codes. However, the FCC would request input on whether other hotline codes should be considered as well as the costs, timeframe, and technical challenges presented by its proposal.

Unlicensed Use of Mid-Band Spectrum: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would request input on repurposing the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.850-5.925 GHz band, which currently is reserved for short-range vehicle-related communications, for unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi. The FCC would argue that much of this band has gone unused since it adopted service rules over 20 years ago and that other vehicle-related communications technologies have been deployed in other frequencies in the interim. The FCC also would observe that unlicensed operations already are permitted in adjacent frequency bands and throughout the 5 GHz band, creating potential spectrum harmonization benefits. The proposed rulemaking would reserve the upper 30 megahertz of the band for vehicle-related communications and would ask whether a portion of this band segment should be allocated to newer Cellular Vehicle to Everything (“C-V2X”) operations, which enable a broad range of vehicle safety services over drivers’ mobile broadband networks such as automated driving applications. The item also would ask for comment on transition and protection mechanisms for incumbent operations should the FCC designate certain spectrum for unlicensed and/or C-V2X uses.

Shared Use of Mid-Band Spectrum: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose to remove existing non-federal radiolocation and amateur allocations in the 3.30-3.55 GHz band and relocate such operations to the 3.1-3.3 GHz band or other frequencies. Current non-federal uses in the 3.30-3.55 GHz band include commercial weather tracking operations and numerous temporary authorizations to provide supplemental wireless capacity during sporting events. The band also is used for federal defense radar systems and aeronautical radionavigation services on a primary basis. The proposal implements provisions of the MOBILE NOW Act, which required the FCC to identify spectrum bands for commercial wireless operations to share with federal users. The item would seek comment on the appropriate transition process for non-federal users, transition costs, and protection mechanisms for federal incumbents.

VoIP Symmetry Rule: The draft Order on Remand and Declaratory Ruling would significantly narrow the application of the so-called VoIP Symmetry Rule, which allows carriers that partner with VoIP providers to recover intercarrier switched access charges under certain circumstances. The proposed action comes in response to a 2016 D.C. Circuit remand.