Will FCC's National Broadband Plan address reliability?

The National Broadband Plan that the Federal Communications Commission is readying for Congress could include programs to ensure greater reliability and visibility into IP networks on which the nation’s public safety agencies increasingly depend, the chief of the FCC’s Communications Systems Analysis Division said Tuesday.

One of the jobs of the division, which is part of the commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, is to assess the condition of communications infrastructure to help ensure that they are available during emergencies, Jeffrey Goldthorp said during a conference on cybersecurity policy hosted in Washington by the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Such information is available for traditional carriers, but not for IP-based networks, Goldthorp said.

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There also is a lack of visibility into conditions of the Internet’s core, he said.

“There is a presumption that the core is secure,” because security breaches, vulnerabilities and incidents typically are noticed and reported at endpoints, he said. But the FCC has an interest in understanding the Internet’s survivability during disasters and emergencies and that requires information not readily available now.

These public safety issues could be addressed in the National Broadband Plan the commission is now crafting, Goldthorp said.

Universal access to broadband Internet access has been designated as a driver for the nation’s economic recovery, and Congress has mandated that the FCC develop a national plan for enabling the technology. FCC issued a notice of inquiry in April seeking input on the development of the plan. The goals are to ensure access to broadband capability for all Americans, provide a detailed strategy for affordability and adoption of broadband, and to maximize utilization of broadband and craft a strategy for using broadband to achieve national goals.

One of those national goals is public safety, which is not now adequately served with high-bandwidth communications. The interoperability of legacy systems is improving through programs intended to establish interoperable standards for public safety radio systems. But interoperability remains far from standard, and agencies are increasingly depending in the field on high-bandwidth data and video applications in addition to traditional radio voice communications.

The plan is due to be delivered to Congress by Feb. 17. But citing what he called an unprecedented level of public participation and comment, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this month asked congressional leaders for an extra 30 days to deliver the plan. That request is pending.

In remarks Tuesday, Goldthorp outlined three elements that could be included in the plan:

  • A voluntary certification program for communications providers, ensuring that they are incorporating best practices identified by the FCC for security, management and reliability.
  • Voluntary reporting of service outages by IP carriers and Internet service providers to provide information on reliability.
  • The need for a system to provide wide-area situational awareness within the Internet. “We don’t have any situational awareness about what is happening in the core,” Goldthorp said. “We can’t make decisions without knowledge.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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