Central Stations Grapple with Telecommunications Challenges

Oct. 14, 2015
From DACT and public telephone lines to the IP transition, now is an important time for alarm monitoring providers

DACT. VOIP. PSTN. IP. These and many other technology issues are at the forefront of many of today’s central station companies. Collecting data and anecdotes is important at this time, says Louis T. Fiore, chair of CSAA’s Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), because of the possibility that the next Congress may decide to rewrite the Telecommunications Act.

Fiore, who is also a past president of CSAA, recently conducted the 4th annual AICC survey, which investigated both all monitored accounts (the total installed base which also includes newer accounts) and newly installed accounts (i.e. installed in the past 12 months). While not a scientifically conducted survey (the results are averages and are not representative of any one company), it showed some expected trends that are consistent with those found in previous surveys:

  • 64% of the installed base is using DACT as a sole transmission method (trending down).
  • 24.5% of the monitored base is radio, IP or cellular as a sole transmission method. (trending up).
  • DACT is still being used as a sole transmission method in 36% of NEW installations (trending down).
  • Wireless (of any type) is being used in 49% of NEW installations as the sole method of transmission (trending up).
  • IP is being used in 6.5% on NEW installations as the sole method of transmission (trending down).

“The survey shows that we are still victims of the PSTN (public switched telephone network) and VoIP,” commented Fiore. “But wireless is moving ahead. IP as a sole transmission method doesn't seem popular – it’s consistently dropping.”



DACT Still Critical to Alarm Industry

AICC is sponsoring another industry-wide survey on the issue of dropped signals involving Digital Alarm Communications Transmitters (DACT). The survey aims to collect information on how the telecom network’s move towards Internet Protocol (IP) affects these signals.

“With the FCC promoting the IP Transition (see below) and with a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act looming in the not-too-distant future, (the survey) information is critical for us to convince the FCC and Congress of our continued reliance on this technology,” Fiore explains.

AICC uses the results of its surveys when speaking to Congress, the FCC and the major carriers in order to inform decision makers and key players of alarm industry dependence on legacy POTS and its VoIP alternatives, as well as wireless.

“While we all realize that DACT technology is basically past its prime, our communications survey showed that 64 percent of installed systems still use this technology as a sole method or in combination with another method,” Fiore says. “It will be many years before it is totally replaced. With a mix of fire alarm and PERS systems out there, missed signals could have serious consequences.”

The survey is ongoing and open to all central stations in the industry. For more information, visit http://csaaintl.org/dact-dropped-signals-survey.


Progress Report on IP Transition

Fiore notes the so-called IP Transition is high on the AICC’s priority list.

On August 6, the FCC announced new rules to encourage technology transitions to IP and to protect consumers. For the first time, the FCC requires providers to directly notify retail customers — including consumers and businesses — of plans to retire copper networks at least three months in advance. To protect competition, the new rules increase the notice period for interconnecting carriers from three months to at least six months. This requirement covers all parts of the copper network essential for providing service.

Fiore explains that when carriers plan to discontinue, reduce or impair service, Section 214 of the Communications Act requires that they first receive FCC approval; however, the FCC has never codified the criteria used to evaluate and compare replacement and legacy services. “The Commission seeks input on how to determine or measure what would constitute an adequate substitute for retail services that a carrier seeks to discontinue, reduce or impair in a Further Notice,” Fiore says, and “tentatively concludes that both consumers and industry would be served by clarifying these standards, and seeks comment on a variety of issues including interoperability with devices and services — such as alarm services, medical monitoring and 911.”

AICC previously has filed comments arguing that, indeed, changing from a copper-based PSTN network to an all-IP network should not in any way inhibit the ability of alarm systems and PERS systems to communicate with central stations. “To us, this does ‘discontinue, reduce or impair service,’” Fiore says. “This is a drum AICC has been beating for a long while with the FCC and Congress, and we intend to file comments in the Further Notice again making this point.”

New FCC rules also require providers of modern home voice services to offer consumers information and the option to buy backup power so they can use their phone service during electric outages. “The FCC is taking action because home voice service is changing,” Fiore explains. “As we all know, traditional copper-based, landline phone service typically works during electric outages because the service provides its own power. In contrast, modern alternatives usually need backup power to keep operating. The new rules are therefore designed to help customers of these modern alternatives maintain available communications at home during electric outages.”

Under the new rules, providers of modern home voice services (that is, facilities-based, fixed, voice residential service that is not line-powered) will be required to ensure that a technical solution for eight hours of standby backup power is available for consumers to purchase at the point of sale. Within three years, these providers will also be required to offer an option for 24 hours of standby backup power. The decision to purchase backup power will be up to consumers — they will not be forced to purchase or pay for equipment they do not want.


Elizabeth Lasko is Vice President of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). Visit http://csaaintl.org for more information.


Sidebar: FCC Clarifies TCPA Restrictions on Robocalling

On July 10, the FCC clarified its Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) rules regarding robocalling. The Declaratory Ruling is effective upon issuance, so to the extent that it impacts any practices currently being followed by alarm companies, they should adjust those practices immediately.

The following rulings should now be observed by alarm companies:

1. Text messages are “calls” subject to TCPA. Alarm companies should be aware that sending a text instead of a call does not sidestep TCPA violations.

2. A called party may revoke consent at any time and through any reasonable means. Alarm companies that use autodialers must keep clear records and take revocations of consent very seriously.

3. If the wireless number a customer gave you is reassigned to someone else, you MUST stop calling it after the first time you discover the change. Because it is up to the company to be able to demonstrate that it did not have actual or constructive knowledge of reassignment, alarm companies that use any type of autodialing must pay close attention to the numbers they dial and any communications they receive from their customers that may indicate the number has been reassigned.

4. Internet-to-phone text messages require consumer consent. An alarm company that may be using software to automatically contact customers is still considered to be “autodialling,” even though it is not using a phone, and must be sure to have the customer’s consent.




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