Super Storm Sandy, Climate Change and Telecommunications Infrastructure: The Report from Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency

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On June 12, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg reported the findings and recommendations of his post-Super Storm Sandy task force. The goal of the report is primarily to minimize disruptions from climate hazards and to improve New York City’s capacity to recover from damage caused by such hazards. At over 400 pages and with over 250 recommendations, the report extensively describes the areas and issues most susceptible to damage and risk due to elevated sea levels, increased temperature and more frequent, stronger and more intense storms.

The report has a specific chapter devoted to telecommunications infrastructure. In sum, the report envisions a more activist role for City government, including creating an office solely devoted to overseeing and coordinating telecommunications companies’ response to climate hazards and emergency planning. Whether this report’s ambitious recommendations can be fully implemented, given that Mayor Bloomberg’s term ends on December 31, remains to be seen.

Key takeaways:

I. Findings

A. The City faults the regulatory overlaps of City, state and federal authorities, citing that there is “no single entity that is prioritizing or enforcing resiliency across the entire [telecommunications] system.”

B. Not surprisingly, fiber systems performed better than coaxial cable and certainly better than copper which corroded in salt water.

C. Cell service outages were largely caused by loss of power, loss of backhaul service and/or physical damage to antennas, with power loss being the most significant problem.

D. Critical telecom facilities were not sufficiently hardened leaving equipment such as generators below flood heights.

E. Cell sites did not have sufficient backup power.

F. There were too many single points of failure and not enough redundancy or multiple service providers into certain areas and properties. Cell sites were generally cited approvingly as having redundant paths to switches. Larger commercial buildings were also generally cited as having redundant services available to tenants.

G. Reporting and coordination problems existed. It was hard for the City to get real time information on outages and recovery. In addition, recovery personnel of telecom companies could not get through to some areas because they had not been designated as critical by the authorities controlling access.

H. Future climate risks include the location of facilities in the floodplain and storm surge damage, heat waves, and high wind damage.

II. Recommendations and Initiatives

The City wants to “strengthen its regulatory powers” while  “developing a stronger relationship” with service providers establishing a Planning and Resiliency Office (PRO) this year (before the end of the Bloomberg administration) in the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT).

A. Its mission will be to:

1. Write and enforce franchise requirements relating to telecom infrastructure and resiliency

2. Tighten service and restoration standards

3. Increase reporting requirements

4. Assist providers in navigating processes in the City bureaucracy

5. Improve conduit infrastructure and redundancy

B. More specifically, PRO, DoITT or other parts of the City government, will:

1. Use the leverage of franchise agreement renewals to write new standards for issues like repair timelines;

2. Expand “resiliency planning efforts and liaise with franchisees to ensure restoration and resiliency;”

3. Require franchisees to increase disaster preparedness by using applicable provisions in the franchise to require that providers share business continuity plans and update those plans;

4. Assist operationally by providing emergency access for telecom providers and prioritizing critical facilities for bridge and tunnel access to assist with recovery;

5. “Encourage providers” (note lack of franchise authority over wireless service providers) to put in place agreements for sharing cell networks in emergencies;

6. “Encourage hardening” of cell sites;

7. Develop incentives and mandates (with other city agencies) to harden buildings and building systems;

8. Use the franchise agreement to ensure hardening of all critical facilities (note, however, the report specifically refers here and elsewhere in the report only to cable television franchises, potentially indicating an ambivalence about possible federal preemption of certain regulation of telecommunications providers under Section 253 of the Communications Act);

9. Meet with “cell providers regularly to develop hardening measures and clear barriers to implement these measures in the City” (i.e. implementing 48-hour backup power from batteries, generators or both, raising key electronic equipment out of the floodplain and increasing wireline redundancy for backhaul);

10. Seek to create redundant and resilient conduit facilities by having greater oversight with respect to Empire City Subway, promoting microtrenching, and improving conduit mapping and information;

11. Rate the quality and resiliency of broadband service at buildings as part of two NYC EDC initiatives: WiredNYC and the NYC Broadband Map; and

12. Require TW and Cablevision to wire certain buildings that request service through another EDC initiative, ConnectNYC, to improve redundancy.

In sum, the City is planning to become more involved in disaster planning and disaster recovery by telecom service providers. However, it remains to be seen whether the City’s extension of authority into some areas and issues is properly within its limited jurisdiction to manage the rights-of-way under federal law. It is clear that the City recognizes that it has limited authority over wireless providers. However, issues such as siting requirements of rooftop and base station equipment may be implicated going forward.

Appendix

Below are excerpts from the report and from Mayor Bloomberg’s speech regarding the report, which are included to provide a sense of the tone and approach of the report.

From the report:

The City will advocate that a base level of telecommunications service is available and accessible throughout New York at all times for emergency communication, and will work toward quick restoration of full telecommunications services  when disruptions do occur. The City will do this by increasing the accountability of telecommunications providers to invest in resiliency and by using new regulatory authority to enable rapid recovery after extreme weather events, to harden facilities so as to reduce weather-related impacts and to create redundancy to reduce the risk of outages. While competition may drive better service and resiliency in some areas, the City must take an active role in making the telecommunications infrastructure more resilient in all parts of New York.

From the Mayor’s speech:

“We have the same goal for our telecommunications network, not just hardening it, but modernizing it.”

“Here, the City has some leverage: we have franchise and other agreements that let telecom companies use our streets for wiring. Well, if they want to continue using our streets they have to make resiliency a priority. They are running a commercial enterprise, but they are using public assets to do it and we have every right to expect them to protect public safety.”

“So we’ll set out a framework for the City to use the franchise review and other processes to ensure these private companies invest in public safety measures.”

“And we’re creating a new Planning and Resiliency Office in the City’s Information Technology agency to design and enforce these new standards and to monitor the performance of telecommunications providers.”

Topics:  Cell Phones, Climate Change, Emergency Management Plans, Emergency Response, Global Warming, Hurricane Sandy, Infrastructure, Public Projects, Sea Levels, Telecommunications

Published In: Communications & Media Updates, Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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