The CTIA plays the key role of getting communications systems restored to help emergency personnel do their jobs in times of crises.
LOS ANGELESOne of the CTIAs "chief responsibilities as a trade association is to put the industry together when necessary." Thats according to Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the wireless association.
Guttman-McCabe, who spoke with eWEEK during the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show here Sept. 13, said one way the Washington-based organization has helped in this area was to make the top four wireless carriers part of the National Communications System.
"The NCS has a 24/7 watch desk," Guttman-McCabe said. During an emergency the NCS may have several conference calls a day between government representatives, the NCS members in an affected area, and the CTIA. "Some companies will send representatives to the NCS," he said.
In addition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the wireless industry, other organizations involved in conference calls during an emergency usually include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and state and local representatives, he said. And depending on where an emergency is, the CTIA will also alert smaller carriers in a region, regardless of whether they are members of the organization. "We have reached out to a number on non-CTIA companies," he said.
Guttman-McCabe has praise for the FCC. "The commission quickly granted waivers to rules" during Hurricane Katrina, he said, such as allowing carriers to use different bands and parts of the spectrum from what they were originally licensed to use. "They allowed carriers to operate in different areas," Guttman-McCabe said.
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The FCC also went the extra mile to help displaced users, including allowing the use of the Universal Service Fund to help consumers who found themselves far from home, he said. "I thought they were extremely responsive," Guttman-McCabe said.
The CTIA is working with the FCC and the NCS to move forward in planning for the next disaster, according to Guttman-McCabe. The government has already agreed to have wireless carriers keep their network status information in one database that both organizations can access, vastly simplifying the process of keeping the information updated, he said.
The biggest problem that the wireless industry, and in fact the whole communications industry, has to deal with during an emergency is getting workers access to the equipment and facilities that need to be restored.
"Id like communications providers to be recognized by the government similar to first responders," Guttman-McCabe said. While there is a difference between workers who are trying to restore communications and firemen and paramedics, restoration of communications is frequently critical to the work that those first responders do, he argued.
"We need a system where communications personnel have a credentialing process in place," Guttman-McCabe said. Currently, he said, personnel who are trying to repair the communications facilities that law enforcement and other first responders need are frequently prevented from do so.
In addition, the communications industry needs to be placed somewhere in the queue for power restoration, Guttman-McCabe said. While hospitals and police stations need power immediately, they are using communications facilities that also need power, he said.
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Of concern to Guttman-McCabe is antitrust regulators looking at emergency planning as collusion, but added that CTIA lawyers say it isnt a problem. "Each carrier has its own interpretation of the laws," he said. While no carrier has approached him about the potential antitrust problem, he said a clarification with the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice would be helpful.
Fortunately, because discussions that take place in the NCS are exempt from antitrust rules, Guttman-McCabe is sure that at least some planning is possible. Regardless of such rules, he said, in actual practice the companies involved tend to do whatever is required at the time. "T-Mobile and Cingular set up home and home roaming," he said, referring to a scheme where any GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cell would look like a home cell to a phone.
Guttman-McCabe said that when he visited the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina hit, he personally observed wireless carriers sharing spectrum and fuel. In some cases the carriers shared their security escorts and other resources, he said, noting that the sharing and mutual support included wireless and wireline companies.
"We saw competition go out the window," Guttman-McCabe said. During and after Hurricane Katrina, "the industry was working together."
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