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NACo Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee Report - 2013 Legislative Conference

Posted Date: 
March 28, 2013
Joe Briggs, Cascade County Commissioner

At this year’s Legislative Conference, the T&T Steering Committee received updates on a number of subjects including cyber-security, activities of the FCC, NextGen 9-1-1 and FirstNet.

The list of speakers providing us updates and their topics included:

  • Kelvin Coleman, Director, State, Local and Tribal Engagement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division
    • DHS shared that they have cyber teams that can provide free cyber security assessments for counties through a review process called CRR.  The Cyber Resilience Review (CRR) is a one-day, onsite interview that examines the overall practice, integration and health of an organization’s cybersecurity program. The CRR seeks to understand the cybersecurity capabilities critical for an organization’s mission success by focusing on protection and sustainment practices within key areas that typically contribute to the overall cyber resilience of an organization. The CRR is based on the CERT Resilience Management Model (CERT-RMM) []. For more information on this free services please contact or visit
    • Additionally, Mr. Coleman shared with the committee recent examples of sophisticated Cyber attacks that have been launched against US businesses and US Governments at all levels.  He talked about how large scale impacts can be achieved by a small group of tech savy groups.  Among the groups actively involved in hacking local governments are terrorist groups, organized crimes, advocacy groups and even the governments of foreign nations.  Lastly he pointed out that the evolution of the cloud and migration to it creates difficulties in assessing the true levels of vulnerability that governments have to cyber attack.
  • Gregory Vadas, Chief, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
    • Mr. Vadas talked about the FCC Intergovernmental Affairs Advisory Committee that is chaired by NACO Telecommunications and Technology Chair Joyce Dickerson and the importance to counties of having Joyce serve in that position. He also talked about the regulatory authority within his Bureau and how they respond to consumer complaints and concerns.  Among the most prevalent issues are “bill shock”, cramming and insured delivery of marketed internet speeds.  He reported that the wireless industry has voluntarily implemented things such as “usage alerts” that have largely dealt with the “Bill shock” issue.  He also reported that his agency’s testing shows that 97% of wired internet subscribers are receiving at least the bandwidth for which they are being charged.
    • The issue of “cramming” is however more difficult to police because the regulatory authority is split between the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. His agency has concerns that this practice which is common on hard wired phones will begin to move into the wireless arena as well.
  • Deena Shetler, Associate Bureau Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
    • Ms. Shelter gave a brief overview of the FCC’s plan to create a one Gigabit access city in each state. Workshops are being planned to talk about how to get these high capacity systems built.  Private infrastructure investment will be a necessity in order to accomplish this and as a result it will be more difficult to accomplish in states like Montana.  Other topics discussed by Ms. Shelter having to do with the expansion of Wired Broadband were pole attachment issues, easement access on public lands and a low cost internet program for low income households.
  • Jeffrey Steinberg, Deputy Chief, Spectrum and Competition Policy Division, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
    • Mr. Steinberg discussed the FCC’s recent release of a guidance document dealing with the federal laws related to the siting of cell towers. On February 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Tax Act) became law. Section 6409(a) of the Tax Act provides that a state or local government “may not deny, and shall approve” any request for collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station, provided this action does not substantially change the physical dimensions of the tower or base station.
    • As is often the case, the legislation failed to define such things as what does “substantially change the physical dimensions of the tower or base station” mean or even what constitutes a “base station”. Other questions are if local government cannot deny such a request, can we require a permit or even a process requiring notification?
    • I asked Mr. Steinberg about how this would reconcile with National Security issues such as frequency interference or microwave disruption due to location of cell towers within our Montana Missile field or other military complexes.  Having just reworked our zoning regulations to deal with this sort of encroachment issue I am more than a bit concerned that clearly the FCC has not consulted the DOD on this issue.  I would suggest that all counties review their land use policies as they relate to cell tower placement to ascertain what changes you made need to make to comply with these new federal regulations.  The “Guidance” document can be downloaded at:
  • Laurie Flaherty, Coordinator, National 911 Program, U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Emergency Medical Services
    • This presentation dealt with the current status of the National 911 program and stressed that system build ups need to be balanced between the three elements of the system.  First there must be a reliable ability for the public to contact the 911 center.  Secondly, the 911 center itself needs to be designed to operate effectively and efficiently during an emergency situation.  It must have redundant systems and the ability to shunt calls to other alternate locations should the facility become compromised by the emergency.  Lastly there needs to be an ability for the 911 center to communicate effectively with the 1st responders. The effectiveness of the overall system is limited by the weakest of the three elements.
    • Currently across the nation there are some 6000 independent 911 call centers.  Most are not interconnected and can be reached only via wired or cell phone.  Most have no ability to reroute calls to alternate sites and many are themselves compromised during serious emergency events.  Newer systems are available that allow the automatic interconnection of multiple 911 centers and load balancing between them but currently no standards exist to allow this capability between different vendor systems. Another concern on the rise is the number of people attempting to contact 911 centers via email, text and even social media such as Facebook instead of calling 911.  In some jurisdictions this is becoming a sizable problem.
  • Tim May, Analyst and NextGen 9-1-1 Team Leader, Policy and Licensing Division, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
    • The discussion of the existing 911 system and its issues led to a discussion of the follow on system which is called Nextgen 911 that is currently being planned.  Once again the one size fits all Beltway mentality manifest itself in this discussion.  Despite much of the nation still struggling to achieve Enhanced 911 service we are now being encouraged to move to an even more advanced and expensive platform.
    • This system would accommodate access to the 911 Center via the traditional phone, cell phone, text messaging, social media and whatever gee wiz technology is created next.  This system sounds great and certainly has particular value for our speech impaired citizens but the technical and privacy hurdles are massive and very expensive to overcome.  In order to work every text/social media message sent would have to contain information regarding the sender’s physical so that the 911 center could locate you and dispatch 1st responders to your location. All message carriers would need also to scan all messages in real time so as to determine which 911 center should receive the message.  In those cases where the local 911 center does not yet have Nextgen 911 capabilities, the carrier would need to bounce the message back to the sender and tell them to dial the phone instead.
    • Additionally, Nextgen 911 is envisioned to be able to tie together all public and private security cameras so that the 911 Center will have access to real time video from the emergency site.  This is one of those that despite being a techie, I have to ask “even if we can do this, should we”?    As it currently stands, no level of government has complete control over this arena and should this initiative move forward, congress would have to empower some level of government to fill in the “gaps”. There may also be state laws that will not allow some of the required technologies.
  • Paul Fitzgerald, Sheriff, Story County, Iowa, FirstNet Board Member
    • In February 2012, Congress enacted The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, containing landmark provisions to create a much-needed nationwide interoperable broadband network that will help police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials stay safe and do their jobs. The law’s governing framework for the deployment and operation of this network, which is to be based on a single, national network architecture, is the new "First Responder Network Authority" (FirstNet), an independent authority within NTIA. FirstNet will hold the spectrum license for the network, and is charged with taking “all actions necessary” to build, deploy, and operate the network, in consultation with Federal, State, tribal and local public safety entities, and other key stakeholders.
    • The Act provides $7 billion in funding towards deployment of this network, as well as $135 million for a new State and Local Implementation Grant Program administered by NTIA to support State, regional, tribal and local jurisdictions’ efforts to plan and work with FirstNet to ensure the network meets their wireless public safety communications needs.
    • The Board of Directors which governs FirstNet was announced on August 20, 2012 and is made up of individuals encompassing a broad range of backgrounds.  At the time of the conference, the Board had only recently begun operations:
      • Tim Bryan
        CEO, National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative
      • Charles “Chuck” Dowd
        Deputy Chief, New York City Police Department
      • F. Craig Farrill
        Wireless telecommunications executive
      • Paul Fitzgerald
        Sheriff, Story County, Iowa
      • Samuel “Sam” Ginn  (Chairman)
        Telecommunications executive
      • Jeffrey Johnson
        Fire Chief, retired; CEO Western Fire Chiefs Association
        Former Chair, State Interoperability Council, State of Oregon
      • William Keever
        Retired telecommunications executive
      • Kevin McGinnis
        Chief/CEO, North East Mobile Health Services
      • Ed Reynolds
        Retired telecommunications executive
      • Susan Swenson
        Telecommunications/technology executive
      • Teri Takai
        Government information technology expert; former CIO, states of Michigan and California
    • It is the stated intention of the board to travel to each state in order to meet with key stakeholders at the state and local level.
Joe Briggs | (406) 454-6810 |