The looming 3G shutdown comes with life-threatening risks

Associated Press/LM Otero

On the morning of Feb. 23, millions who depend on a 3G wireless connected device for medical emergencies, fires, burglaries or carbon monoxide detection will find their lives needlessly at risk. These devices will not work when AT&T shuts down its 3G network on Feb. 22, threatening tens of millions of people relying on them in their homes and businesses.  

Known as the 3G sunset, those affected include hundreds of thousands of people who have personal emergency response systems (PERS). Over 85 percent are seniors, live alone and are 100 percent dependent on these to summon health emergency services, critically important if they fall. In addition, well over a million burglar and fire alarm systems will fail, causing needless havoc for residential and commercial consumers. Millions of older cars will lose connectivity for collision avoidance, summoning 911 and other emergency services, ankle bracelet monitoring systems for violent criminals used by the judicial system won’t work and school bus monitoring systems protecting students won’t work either.  

If it sounds like a bad movie plot, it isn’t, it’s real and the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) takes this very seriously. We have and will continue to do everything in our power to protect the American public from this looming disaster scenario.  

Starting with AT&T, cell phone companies are shutting down their existing 3G networks so they can repurpose that spectrum to support their more advanced networks. To be very clear, we support moving to 5G that will provide faster downloading of information as America needs to remain globally competitive. However, repurposing the spectrum from AT&T’s 3G network for their 5G network will not provide consumers with the much-hyped promise of faster downloading of data, games and movies.  

Since the wireless providers published notification shutting down their 3G networks three years ago, the AICC and its members have been working tirelessly to upgrade existing alarm systems that communicate over the 3G networks, most of which require technicians to make in-person home or business appointments to replace wireless radios with newer models and training customers to use them. AT&T’s 3G shutdown is the earliest and therefore creates a timing issue.  

Under ordinary circumstances, the 3-year time frame AT&T provided would have been enough time to complete the work. However, the industry faced an unprecedented global pandemic for the past 2 years with many customers reluctant to allow anyone to enter their homes or businesses. More recently, worldwide microchip shortages and supply chain issues have dramatically slowed the supply of replacement alarm equipment that works on the newer networks, making it impossible to complete a timely transition.  

We’ve filed a Petition for Emergency Relief with the Federal Communications Commission — the agency empowered with ensuring wireless operations protect public safety — requesting they instruct AT&T to delay their sunset for 10 months until the end of 2022, which coincides with Verizon’s sunset deadline. This delay will give us the 3 years AT&T promised.  

Joining us in asking the FCC for a reasonable extension is AARP, Public Knowledge, The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., the school bus industry, National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, the Rural Wireless Association (representing millions of threatened consumers) and multiple public safety entities, including the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council and the National Association of State Fire Marshals.  

As an industry, we’ve been through these types of upgrades before and have successfully managed them with our customers. But we’ve hit the perfect storm — pandemic, chip shortages, labor shortages and supply chain issues — yet AT&T refuses to acknowledge the risk it creates for consumers and businesses.  

Because the lives and health of millions of Americans, including seniors, are at risk, we strongly urge the Biden administration to intervene as they successfully did in the recent aviation spectrum dispute. With their help, we can get the added time we need to complete these lifesaving upgrades. We’re calling, texting and sending out mailers in a race to finish, but have nearly 2 million left to go with time running out.  

For us, this is about saving lives, not dollars.  

Louis Fiore is chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC). John Brady is a member of the AICC and COO/CFO of Connect America. Daniel Oppenheim is a member of the AICC and CEO of Affiliated Monitoring. 

Tags 3G 5G Affiliated Monitoring AT&T Connect America Mobile telecommunications Telecommunications Wireless

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