CPUC Orders New Telecom Resiliency Requirements

The California Public Utilities Commission(CPUC) has issued Decision 21-02-029, establishing new measures applicable to facilities-based wireline telecommunications providers to help ensure access to vital communications during natural disasters and electric grid outages. “Facilities-based wireline providers” are the companies responsible for infrastructure that provides or otherwise carries 9-1-1, voice, text messages, or data services. This week’s decision prioritizes resiliency for wireline facilities located in Tier 2 and Tier 3 High Fire Threat Districts.

The decision adopts a number of near and longer-term obligations aimed at preventing the kind of communications failures that have challenged first responders and critical facility operators during recent wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events:

  • The decision defines “resiliency” as “the ability to recover from or adjust to adversity or change through an array of strategies including, but not limited to, backup power, redundancy, network hardening, temporary facilities, communication and coordination with other utilities, emergency responders, the public and finally, preparedness planning.”
  • The decision establishes a 72-hour backup power requirement for the wireline providers’ facilities in Tier 2 and 3 areas. Within eight months the wireline providers must be able to ensure minimum service to critical facilities, facilities providing service to wireless networks, and network equipment located in communities lacking sufficient wireless service coverage. Within 18 months, this requirement must be met for all facilities in Tier 2 and 3 areas.
  • The decision requires wireline providers to file Communications Resiliency Plans that detail the companies’ ability to maintain a minimum level of service during a disaster or outage, including: maintaining access to 9-1-1 and 2-1-1, emergency notifications, PSPS and grid outage response plans, deployment and maintenance of backup battery and generation capacity, ability to replace damaged facilities, ability to support reporting out system outages, and investment plans to improve network resiliency.
  • The decision permits the near-term use of diesel generation as a primary backup power resource, but directs the wireline providers to explore ways to transition to renewable generation for backup power.
  • The decision directs wireline providers to submit annual emergency operations plans that include arrangements for collaboration with the CPUC and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services during a disaster or electric grid outage.

The CPUC responded to telecommunication companies’ jurisdictional objections by citing the CPUC’s constitutional and statutory authority to ensure maintenance of utility services during emergency conditions. Emphasizing that “uninterrupted communications service is an essential precondition for the ability of public safety officials to communicate and coordinate with each other and with the public,” the CPUC detailed its powers under Article XII of the State Constitution, Public Utilities Code, state police powers recognized under the U.S. Constitution, and established precedent.

The decision follows on Decision 19-08-025 in Phase 1, which adopted customer protection requirements for California customers of communications providers after widespread loss of service during wildfires and PSPS events.

Contact: Lynn Haug, Samantha Neumyer