Press Release

Public Knowledge Calls on FCC to Oversee 3G Sunset

August 31, 2021

Yesterday, Public Knowledge, Access Humboldt, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Center for Rural Strategies, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Notice seeking comment on a petition for emergency relief filed by the Alarm Industry Communications Committee.

The petition for emergency relief requests the FCC act to delay the planned shutdown of AT&T’s 3G wireless network in February 2022 because security, fire, and personal medical alert systems all rely upon it to function. Because of COVID-19, the alarm industry has not been able to upgrade these systems to function on modern wireless networks. Without intervention from the FCC, the shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network threatens to leave some unknown number of alarm systems inoperable. In addition, an unsupervised shutdown of 3G systems by major carriers nationwide puts the phone service of millions of Americans – many of them elderly or low-income – at risk.

While Public Knowledge supports the phase out of obsolete 3G networks so that carriers can redeploy these resources for next generation wireless, the FCC must exercise oversight to ensure that the transition is safe, orderly, and protects public safety and vulnerable consumers. The comments urge the FCC to use its authority to require stakeholders such as the alarm industry and AT&T to work together to prevent members of the public from experiencing any disruption of vital services.

The following can be attributed to Nicholas Garcia, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“Having better, faster wireless service across this country is an important goal, but as we develop and deploy new technologies, we must always strive to do so in a safe and inclusive way. The transition from 3G service cannot come at the cost of public safety or vulnerable and marginalized people.

“In the midst of this global pandemic, many people simply haven’t been able to upgrade to the new devices needed for 4G or 5G service, and shutting down the 3G networks before that can happen isn’t just an inconvenience – it’s dangerous. The alarm industry flagged a critical public safety issue in its petition, but the alarm systems are just one aspect of the problem: People with older phones could find themselves unable to make any calls, not even to 911. Additionally, the people who are going to be disproportionately affected by this are among the most vulnerable already; the poor, the elderly, and those who live in areas that already have connectivity problems.

“Fortunately, the FCC has often taken an active role in transitions like this one, and we hope that the FCC will again step in and mediate among the service providers to ensure that when these networks do shut down, people don’t suddenly find themselves without service when they need it most.”

You can view our comments here.