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FCC to share network outage data more broadly

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to expand the sharing of communications network disruption data with certain agencies during emergencies.

In a final rule to be published April 29 in the Federal Register, the FCC said it will permit the sharing of confidential data from the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) and the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) on a need-to-know basis with qualified state, Tribal and federal agencies that can use the information to prepare for or respond to a public-safety event.

NORS is a mandatory data collection system into which communication providers report network disruptions to wireline, wireless, paging, cable, satellite, VoIP and digital signaling services. DIRS is a similar system that collects information volunteered by communications providers about the operational status of their networks during a disaster.

Until now, access to outage report filings in NORS and DIRS were available only to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center at the Department of Homeland Security because they contain data that could threaten national security or corporate competitiveness.  DHS reviewed the data to assess the needs of affected areas and to coordinate emergency response efforts with state and local first responders. Other agencies could only access aggregated and anonymized data.

The new rule would give participating agencies access to the more granular outage information contained in NORS and DIRS, but it includes a number of security precautions, including limiting the number of users with read-only access to NORS and DIRS filings and requiring participating agencies to annually train users on their privileges and obligations.

The FCC also plans to build auditing capabilities into NORS and DIRS that will track which reports specific users access and when they are accessed.

“Bringing those officials into the DIRS and NORS systems will help minimize duplicative reporting and ensure that different levels of government are working from the same playbook,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a March 2 statement on the proposed ruling. “Securing and maintaining the confidentiality of those systems remains important, but I believe we can provide adequate protections while still expanding access to this lifesaving and recovery-enhancing information.”

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