2024 News Releases

Joint Venture publishes Protecting California in the 21st Century: Public Safety in a Voice-over-IP and Over the Top World

cover imageWhite paper addresses critical need for modernized approaches to public safety strategies in light of technology changes and subscriber preferences

April 30, 2024 – Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a Bay Area think tank, today released a comprehensive white paper highlighting crucial developments in the state’s telecommunications landscape and which emphasizes the necessity for updating California’s outdated public safety strategies to align with modern technologies and provide more effective response during emergencies and disasters. Protecting California in the 21st Century, encourages a forward-looking and market-aware approach to emergency communications, including 9-1-1 emergency services. The paper urges stakeholders to adapt to an equally forward-looking and technologically progressive approach toward the already-evolving emergency communications landscape by accepting the inevitability of analog telephone system retirement.

Written by David Witkowski, Executive Director of Joint Venture’s Civic Technology Initiative, Protecting California in the 21st Century outlines the transition from Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) to Voice over IP (VoIP) and Over the Top (OTT) technologies as a necessary evolution in telecommunications. “This shift, driven by advancements in technology and changes in consumer preferences, has significant implications for public safety and emergency communications,” says Witkowski, who was also co-author of the Telecommunications & ICT chapter in the U.S. Geological Survey’s HayWired earthquake scenario.

Key Points of the Paper

  • Technological Evolution: Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift from analog telephones to digital voice technologies, facilitated by the widespread consumer adoption of broadband data networks and cellular networks. This transition is driven by consumer preference for the enhanced features and flexibility offered by digital and cellular solutions. Data shows that 98.3% of Californians use technologies other than the traditional analog telephones for voice.
  • Decline of Analog Telephony: The analog telephone network, with its limited functionality, aging infrastructure, and dwindling subscriber base, is becoming increasingly obsolete. Maintenance challenges, such as the scarcity of replacement parts and retiring technicians, underscore the inefficiency of investing in this outdated system, and the need to divert resources toward modern technologies. The U.S., including California, lags behind other Western countries in transitioning away from analog telephony.
  • Regulatory Landscape: Despite the market’s overwhelming preference for modern digital and wireless services, California’s regulatory framework still mandates the maintenance of the analog telephone network. The white paper argues this to be an inefficient allocation of resources. With the retirement of the analog telephone network these resources could be better used to expand and improve digital and cellular networks, thus enhancing public safety in a way that aligns with consumer preferences and market realities.
  • Public Safety Implications: The transition to VoIP and OTT technologies has profound implications for public safety agencies, especially in their response to emergencies and disaster situations. The paper highlights the need for policy adjustments to align with the technological preferences of Californians, who increasingly rely on wireless and broadband technologies for emergency communications, and notes that 99.2% of California’s 9-1-1 call centers now support Wireless 9-1-1 Phase II ¾ which means that precise location data from cellular callers is directly available to nearly every 9-1-1 operators, and most of the state’s 9-1-1 call centers already support texting to 9-1-1. Furthermore, the paper highlights the results of a NIST-funded study by the Applied Technology Council showing that cellular is more resilient than forms of communication.
  • Consumer Behavior Shift: Data indicates a significant consumer shift toward wireless-only households and the use of digital communication platforms, accelerated by a lingering preference for the work-from-home arrangements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift underscores the need for investment in creating a broadband-centric approach to emergency communication and public safety strategies.
  • Advancements in Emergency Communications in a Digital World: The paper discusses the expansion of alerting strategies by public safety agencies, including the use of data-driven platforms and the integration of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and OTT applications. These advancements offer targeted, efficient, and effective means of communication during emergencies, and reducing alert fatigue through geotargeting.

The paper concludes with a call to action for California’s legislative, regulatory, and public safety leadership to embrace the digital future of telephony. It emphasizes the importance of adapting emergency communications strategy and investing in infrastructure, technology, and training to harness the full potential of broadband for VoIP and OTT technologies, ensuring a resilient and responsive communication network for the state.

By embracing digital communication technologies and updating regulatory and policy frameworks, California can enhance its public safety infrastructure to meet the demands of the 21st century, ensuring the well-being and security of its residents and communities in the face of emergencies and disasters.

Read the white paper


About Joint Venture Silicon Valley

Established in 1993, Joint Venture Silicon Valley is a platform for analysis created and supported by the major sectors (business, government, labor, academia). The analysis emanates from the organization’s research arm, the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies. The Institute catalyzes action by spotlighting issues, convening the region’s leaders, and facilitating a process for collaborative action. For more information, visit www.jointventure.org.

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