Looming 3G Network Shutdown Worries Student Transportation Advocates

It’s unlikely that AT&T will delay the planned shutdown of its 3G network on Feb. 22.

But that didn’t stop Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and legislative liaison for the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), from filing a response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with concerns.

In the document filed Feb. 14, Ng made the case for giving school districts more time to update systems so they can avoid losing GPS and communications services aboard school buses that rely on AT&T.

“Specific to school transportation, this means that any commercial transport (like school buses) reliant on 3G technology will go dark, losing the ability to track/manage their logistics if their devices have not been upgraded,” Ng wrote. “School districts nationwide rely on a mix of legacy 3G hardware, in combination with 4G units, to safely and seamlessly run their transportation operations.”

On an average day, about 500,000 school buses carry 25 million elementary and secondary school students. They’re also used for activity and field trips. Zonar Systems data cited in Ng’s statement indicates that between 5 and 10 percent of all public school buses across the country could lose GPS service if AT&T shuts down the 3G network as planned so that it can free resources for 5G implementation. She wrote that “schools could also lose the contact-tracing solutions to help them comply with COVID mitigation and quarantine protocols to help reduce the likelihood of significant COVID outbreaks in the schools.”

NAPT previously asked the commission to delay the shutdown for six months to give “the industry time to source components and to continue top build and install 4G telematics devices at a pace commensurate with the currently depressed global supply chain,” she wrote.

Home alarm companies also sought delays to AT&T’s 3G network sunset, but Robert Vitanza, senior legal counsel for AT&T, said in his company’s response that the aging network is “a gross waste of the nation’s scarce spectrum resources.” Vitanza also indicated that the FCC “lacks authority over this dispute.” He noted that AT&T gave customers more than three years to prepare.

“Again, AT&T has a strong interest in helping its customers manage the 5G transition, and it has taken proactive steps for years to make that transition as seamless for them as possible,” Vitanza wrote. “We will maintain that same customer-centric focus in the days before and after the Feb. 22 sunset.”

In an official statement from an AT&T spokesperson, the company said: "Since February of 2019, we have proactively worked with our business customers across a wide variety of industries to help them upgrade their fleets and devices before 3G services end on Feb. 22. We have sent numerous communications to manufacturers and they have sent messages and notifications to customers if their vehicles are impacted."

The company also stated that:

  • Less than 1% of AT%T's mobile traffic currently runs on 3G networks.
  • Most vehicles on the company's network are connected through 4G LTE.
  • AT&T will assist customers on data plans for their vehicles if they have questions related to upgraded services or billing.

Other wireless carrier companies plan to retire their own 3G networks later this year.

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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