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The Municipal Wire

In Issue 3 (Winter/Spring 2002):

• September 11th Aftermath
• Updating the Emergency Communications Plan
• Wireless 911
• Epstein & August, LLP to Develop Municipal Energy Conservation Projects 
• Internet Tax Ban Extended Two Years
• Legal Briefs


September 11th Aftermath:  Upgrading Emergency Communications Systems
In the wake of the September 11th tragedies, emergency communications takes on unprecedented importance. Municipal public safety officials are upgrading their communications facilities and plans on several fronts, as outlined below.

Updating the Emergency Communications Plan

Municipal emergency management plans should outline emergency communications tools, from the high tech to the low tech. Many planners recommend appointment of an emergency communications subcommittee as part of the “Local Emergency Planning Committee” (LEPC) required by federal law.   Emergency communications planning should address a range of technologies, including municipal access to state agency emergency communications systems; municipal override of cable television channels, emergency access to the community cable studio (if there is one), municipal access to broadcast, radio and print media, Reverse 911 ™,  and old-fashioned bull-horns, sirens and community bulletin boards.   Several communications technology developments that impact municipal officials are outlined below.

Wireless 911

Enhanced 911 enables Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to immediately have access to the 911 callers phone number (automated number identification) and location (actual location information).  Enhanced 911 for land-line (wired) transmissions is now an established pillar of emergency telecommunications, but implementation of enhanced 911 for wireless is just getting off the ground, and requires changes at the local answering point.  FCC rules require wireless carriers to provide automatic number identification (ANI) and actual location information (Cell Site ALI) features for wireless 911 calls, however, this does not have to be implemented until the local PSAP (public safety answering point) upgrades its facilities with wireless ANI and ALI equipment.  The local PSAPs are usually under the control of local safety agencies, and these agencies are awaiting state action to fund PSAP wireless equipment.  In Massachusetts, PSAPs are awaiting state action on funding wireless upgrades and wireless carriers have been able to postpone deployment of enhanced 911.   Senate Bill No. 1920 would impose a surcharge of 30 cents per wireless subscriber to fund enhanced 911 for local PSAPs.

State and local jurisdictions have a crucial role in the implementation of wireless enhanced 911.  Under federal law, wireless carriers do not have to provide local enhanced wireless 911, until requested by a local PSAP (public safety answering point).  Carriers also do not have to attempt implementation of enhanced wireless 911 if the requesting local PSAP is not already equipped for enhanced wireless 911.  Financing of PSAP equipment upgrades for wireless 911 largely depends on state action, e.g., imposition of a surcharge for wireless 911.
“Reverse 911” – Reverse 911 is a system by which safety officials use a PC with voice recording and autodial to call the public and provide emergency messages.  Safety officials can target an area, providing residents with localized emergency information. Reverse 911 can be used to rapidly apprise residents of emergency situations and can include appropriate instructions (e.g., evacuate Elm Street). Costs depend on several variables including number of lines, use of dedicated lines, number of residents and other service features.

Epstein & August, LLP to develop municipal energy conservation projects

Epstein & August, LLP is using its background in technology, utility regulation and municipal law to expand into certain areas of energy law.  Conservation Services Group, a Westborough-based energy conservation contractor has asked Epstein & August, LLP to represent CSG in developing municipal conservation joint ventures with cities and towns.  CSG specializes in commercial real estate lighting, insulation, mechanical energy renovations, energy audits and related conservation strategies. According to CSG, monetary savings from the conservation measures pay back the cost of conservation renovations in years.  Epstein & August, LLP works with CSG to negotiate conservation projects and help municipal participants apply for utility company reimbursements 

Internet Tax Ban Extended Two Years

Congress [Bush] approved legislation that extended the ban on Internet sales taxes for a period of two years.  State and local officials have been seeking to impose Internet sales taxes, arguing that imposition of such taxation is necessary to create a level playing field for regular stores that pay the tax.  Local officials have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and see the Internet sales tax as an equitable potential source of much needed revenue.

Legal Briefs

MCET Loses Funding 

The Massachusetts Corporation of Educational Telecommunications lost [state? federal?] funding in November, 2001, bring to a close a leading innovators and distributors of satellite and web-based educational programming…..Mass LearnPike provided – hundred member high schools satellite receive dishes, school connections, etc., etc.

US Supreme Court Hears Case on Cable Modem Service

In October, 2001, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gulf Power v. FCC, a case in which utility pole owners have argued that the Court should rule that cable modem, cable Internet service is a telecommunications service” and not a “cable service.” and therefore not subject the FCC’s cable television pole attachment rate-setting rules.  The case has the potential to impact municipal cable franchising because many municipalities collect a percentage of gross cable service revenues as access payments or franchise fees.  The 1996 Telecommunications Act does not allow such cable franchise payments to be based on telecommunications revenues.  In an interesting twist, cable operators have asked for more stringent rate regulation—with respect to pole attachment fees.

Office of Consumer Affairs Creates Wireless Siting Steering Committee

Jennifer Carey Davis, Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs, has created a Steering Committee of industry and municipal officials to study wireless tower siting and wireless 911 issues.  Massachusetts Municipal Association Director Geoffrey Beckwith (check spelling) and MMA Legislative Liaison Matthew Faher, and numerous local government officials are representing municipal interests.  MMA has invited Bill August of Epstein & August, LLP to participate as an MMA consulting attorney to the Steering Committee.

Aerie Networks Buys Metricom Assets

The assets of Metricom, Inc., which operates a wireless Internet network, are being acquired by Aerie Networks, Inc., a Denver telecommunications company.  Metricom has been of interest to New England municipal officials.  The Metricom network offers consumers wireless Internet at speeds twice as fast as dial-up modems, and the Metricom radios are located in the public right-of-way, attached to utility poles, raising numerous right-of-way management and user fee issues for local governments.

The "Municipal Wire" is a newsletter produced by Epstein & August, LLP. The Municipal Wire focuses on developments in cable television regulation and related municipal technology issues. Readers are advised that the newsletter is for general information purposes and should not be applied to individual situations without inquiry or legal counsel as needed.

Editor's Note: The Municipal Wire is published by Epstein & August, LLP, a partnership of attorneys Bill August and Peter Epstein. We look forward to sharing information on local, state and federal cable television, telecommunications and public right-of-way issues. We extend special thanks to Marc Lucas for his editorial assistance. Copyright Epstein& August, LLP.

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