A recent account of an emergency rescue in the wilderness of the Copper River Valley in Alaska provides a vivid depiction of how universal service truly saves lives. In an ex parte letter to the FCC, Copper Valley Wireless recounts the startling details of how a cell tower that was deployed only with the support of universal service funding routed a 911 call that saved a life.
On July 3, 2013, David Bruss, a resident of Chitina, Alaska, was fishing on the Copper River with four family friends. After departing shore alone in his motorized-kayak to return to their camp, Mr. Bruss’ kayak got caught in an eddy and was quickly overturned by the powerful current. In the blink of an eye, David Bruss was tossed into the frigid, silt-filled waters of the raging Copper River.
Mr. Bruss’ companions witnessed the capsizing of his kayak and immediately began dialing 911, recognizing the life-and-death situation unfolding before their eyes. Using mobile phones two an emergency calls were made to the Alaska State Troopers office, one via 911. The 911 emergency call was routed from the Cannon Hill cell site in Chitina, Alaska, sent via fiber backhaul to the Copper Valley Wireless switch located in Glennallen, Alaska, and eventually connected to the Alaska State Troopers dispatch center in Palmer, Alaska. However, the initial outgoing 911 call using Copper Valley Wireless’s service was only the first instance that day of the utility of this absolutely vital cell site.
Once the Alaska State Troopers dispatch received the plea for help, it was immediately able to contact the closest Alaskan State Trooper. Knowing that time was of the essence, and relying on his personal knowledge of area residents, Trooper Ben Endres wasted no time in placing his own mobile-to-mobile call — once again using Copper Valley Wireless service — to charter captain and fellow Copper Valley Wireless customer Mark Hem at the remote O’Brien Creek camp. Because he was on-shore at that precise moment, Mark Hem too made a mobile-to-mobile call to yet another local resident, Sam McCalister, who along with his fishing crew just happened to be in a boat downriver from Mr. Bruss’ likely location. After 26 horrific minutes in nearly freezing and fast-moving water, David Bruss was pulled from the Copper River and his life saved.
The professionalism and heroic efforts exhibited by all the individuals named above played a huge role in saving David Bruss’ life. But the fact remains that without the ability of three separate individuals to make three separate calls in three equally remote locations using a Copper Valley Wireless cell site that is supported by universal service funds, this story would not have a happy ending.
According to the FCC’s most recent mobile wireless competition report, at least 25 percent of the geography of the United States lacks basic wireless coverage from even one mobile service provider. The cost of providing even basic mobile wireless service in these rural areas is extremely expensive. A cost that can only be overcome with sufficient, but ultimately supplemental, universal service fund support. A remote cell tower deployed and maintained using universal service support saved the life of David Bruss on July 3, 2013. The FCC should strive to formulate the rules going forward that ensure that remote cell sites continue to be supported. In weighing the cost of this support with the cost of saving human lives day in and day out, the FCC must continue to be diligent in ensuring adequate funds are available.