Ensuring consumers can access emergency services and promoting telecommunications network resilience will take a strong federal-State collaboration, the
In testimony today before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, NARUC President Colette D. Honorable of
"NARUC has consistently supported technological innovations that promote more resilient networks and provide better service," President Honorable said. "But preserving public safety and network reliability, along with other values that customers expect--such as universal service, competition (interconnection), and consumer protection--are also important concerns in any technology transition, including this one."
President Honorable, who chairs the
But as other States have learned, the prompt restoration of communications services can depend on the type of service a consumer has. While IP-based technologies are more efficient than the "circuit-switched" services they are replacing, they are also vulnerable to other problems.
"For example, so-called 'circuit-switched' services are self-powering," she said. "The electricity that carries your voice on such services also provides power. IP-based services rely upon external power sources. Therefore if your landline telephone company still provides circuit-switched service, your phone will continue to work even through an electricity outage. If, however, the power goes out in your home and you have an IP-based phone system, you will only retain phone service...as long as your backup batteries last. During prolonged outages, IP-based residential customers will almost certainly lose phone service. Wireless phones that require external power to recharge once their batteries drain have the same problem."
This is why regulatory oversight remains crucial regardless of technological changes, President Honorable said. Consumers may not necessarily care how their phone calls are delivered, but rather they care that the phones are operational. "The consumer cares if the phone service works during power outages and emergencies," she said. "When she calls 911, she wants that call to go to the right call center--she wants the call center to know where she is. The consumer does not distinguish whether the network provides the service using IP-protocol based- or circuit-switched technologies."
Therefore, she said, coordination between State and federal agencies, emergency responders, and telecommunications and electric utility companies is essential. "When hurricanes, tornadoes or other natural disasters unleash their destructive force they do not discriminate between a copper, fiber, or wireless network," she said. "It is precisely for this reason that we as policymakers should not discriminate in applying our values."
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