White House Rejects Cell-tower Backup Power Plan

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The White House has rejected a plan by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to require eight hours of backup power on every cell-phone tower in the country.

The FCC proposed the rule in 2007, after Hurricane Katrina caused service interruptions on the Gulf Coast. The Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that oversees federal regulations, said it rejected the rule because the FCC failed to get public comment on it.

The plan has drawn opposition from the mobile industry, led by the industry group CTIA, which has sued to stop it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had postponed its ruling on the suit until after the OMB released its decision.

After Katrina, the FCC formed an independent panel to review the effects of the hurricane on communications networks. The panel found that power outages contributed to cellular network failures, and the FCC then drew up the backup recommendation to help ensure public-safety agencies can communicate in the wake of future disasters. It later exempted some cell towers but not the general rule.

"We believe that having backup power for America's communications networks during times of emergency is vitally important for public safety. Ensuring that reliable and redundant communications are available to public safety during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and other catastrophic events continues to be a high priority for the commission," said FCC spokesman Matthew Nodine.

"We are considering our options in light of the OMB decision," Nodine said.

The FCC could override the OMB's decision, but a ruling by the appeals court might still block it.

The CTIA has argued the regulation would be onerous and unnecessary.

"CTIA is pleased the Office of Management and Budget recognized that the FCC failed to seek and evaluate public comment on these important rules at the inception of the rulemaking process," the industry group said in a statement Tuesday. "Having the flexibility to adapt to unique emergency situations will better serve American wireless consumers. Carriers already have implemented flexible business continuity/disaster recovery plans that address their backup power needs and enhance network reliability and resiliency."

AT&T, BellSouth and other carriers earlier had argued against requiring specific provisions for keeping service available after disasters. Mobile operators deployed portable base stations on trucks to restore service in some areas after Katrina.

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