Citing the events of Superstorm Sandy, during and after which numerous citizens of his state “were left stranded, with no way to reach friends, to call loved ones, or even to call for help,” ranking House Energy and Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced legislation on Monday that offers a variety of solutions to avert or mitigate network outages in the wake of natural or manmade disasters. Pallone unveiled the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters (SANDy) Act just weeks after the three-year anniversary of Sandy, which ravaged shoreline and other communities in New Jersey and knocked nearly 25% of the state’s cell phone transmission facilities out of service. The storm also caused major landline telephone, Internet, and cable television service breakdowns, which Pallone termed as “simply unacceptable.”
As he declared that the goal of the SANDy Act is “to ensure we can all communicate, even when the worst occurs,” Pallone stated that the measure was built upon feedback he received from local government officials, industry leaders and public safety network representatives during a September forum on the impact of Superstorm Sandy on telecommunications networks. Specifically, provisions of the SANDy Act would ensure that (1) consumers can place wireless calls on another carrier’s network in the event their own network breaks down during an emergency, with priority given to 911 calls and emergency alerts, (2) coordination is increased “between wireless carriers, utilities and public safety officials,” and (3) providers of broadcast television, radio, wireless and fixed telephone services “can fix outages faster, even across state lines.” While mandating “a process to provide 911 services over Wi-Fi hotspots during emergencies,” the bill would require the FCC to launch a rulemaking proceeding to mandate mobile roaming “at reasonable rates during times of emergency and if the outage is longer than 24 hours.” The FCC would also be directed to submit a study to Congress on the provision of mobile carrier outage data to public safety answering points (PSAPs) in times of emergency. The agency would be further required to “create a master point of contact directory” to facilitate communications between carriers and PSAPs.