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On the Freedoms and Responsibilities Of Civic Speech

What is spam? Clearly someone who repeatedly sends solicitous messages for their own financial benefit is a spammer.  But, is a user who seeks to shed light on fraud in a public forum, addressed to public officials, towards the public welfare, and regarding public infrastructure / disaster readiness a spammer?

The First Amendment lays out several sacrosanct, inalienable relevant positive rights enjoyed by all Americans:

  • The right to unabridged freedom of speech;
  • The right to freedom of the press;
  • The right to petition government for the redress of grievances; and
  • The right to peaceable assembly.

There are limitations though. Can one utter fighting words that might imminently breach the peace or shout “fire” in a crowded theater? No.  Can one lie, falsely advertise, or commit fraud for their own commercial benefit? No.

First Amendment jurisprudence provides speech which is primarily commercial much less protection than other speech.  My speech is honest, truthful, regarding public concerns, motivated by love and my oath to provide for the public welfare and common defense, and addressed to public entities funded by taxpayer funds.

Some have said that I’ve been spamming my concerns about Gotenna and Twilio.  I’m not invested in either company or their competitors. My concern and sole motivation is to further the collective public interest in a strong communications infrastructure so that the next time a hurricane or disaster strikes, the people of Puerto Rico, my mother, perhaps your mother, and other Americans will have backup communications options firmly in place to reach out and ask for help.  I have no financial interest in this whatsoever.

So far, Gotenna and Twilio have dismissed my concerns, ignored my questions, labelled me a troll, blocked all of my accounts, deleted accounts on their forum and banned them for 1000 years; deleted threads and posts asking earnest questions; gotten my Twitter  and Facebook accounts suspended; threatened lawsuits; and offered me a $1000 to be quiet.

Is this the behavior of a company you would trust with your communications and maintaining your privacy?

I have only two asks:

(1) Will Gotenna and/or Twilio put best-efforts to enabling 911  / 112 / 999 access via their sms relay or Emergency SOS features?  ALL 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico are ready, willing, and able to receive text 911 messages.  FCC has required this since 2014- but still no movement on the part of Gotenna / Twilio.

(2) Will Gotenna and/or PR Reconnects live up to the promises of their fundraiser (fully funded in 2017) to provide an emergency backup communications network of “300” gotenna mesh comms devices to Puerto Rico? Will Gotenna provide the necessary connection to hospitals as called for before next hurricane season?

If either of these are important to you, please kindly ask @gotenna @pr_reconnects @javierMBGJ (Javier Malave) or @twilio (Jeff Lawson) for input on whichever platform you prefer.  support@gotenna.com

If you disagree with me or have suggestions on how to better achieve this, please consider letting me know why/how below or sharing your thoughts or advice here or via email privately at catsignal.us@gmail.com

The proof is in the pudding.  This clearly is not the 300 gotenna emergency backup communications units that the fundraiser called for and they are not satellite sms backhauled to the local hospitals or policia.  Ignoring 911 “Emergency SOS” messages when they could be quite readily delivered to any of the thousands of e911 ng911 text911 or text-to-911 PSAP centers is playing Russian roulette with innocent peoples’ lives with a blindfold on.

Quit the #BirdBoxChallenge ing Gotenna, Twilio, open your eyes. By refusing to allow 911, and discarding emergency SOS messages, you are creating an inherently dangerous situation.

Isn’t it our duty to shed light and to speak truth?

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Why Grandma Can’t Reach 911 if she gets run over by a reindeer on Christmas Eve: A story of ducks and chickenshits.

On The Nature Of Ducks (and Title II “information service” providers):

What is a common carrier?

What does the First Amendment have to do with common carriers?

What is estoppel (e.g., collateral estoppel, equitable estoppel… etc.)?

If someone walks, talks, and acts like a duck, and argues in front of the FCC and courts that they are a duck, aren’t they a duck?

Should a company seeking profit be able to argue that they are a duck in court when it benefits them but then, with the same mouth, argue vociferously that they aren’t a duck when it doesn’t suit them for legal purposes?

Believe someone when they show you who they are.

What do Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Gotenna, Twilio, and others all have in common? They all want to make money.  Accordingly, they provide services that enrich them and incidentally, we are all provided with a service.  Amazon Alexa is a great example.  From our perspective, we pay some amount ($19 – $149) and get a gadget that does things for us.  But what’s the real purpose behind Amazon Alexa from Amazon’s perspective? Where do they really make their money?

Similarly, Gotenna makes a product (e.g., Gotenna Mesh) ostensibly to connect people on the fringes of conventional communications coverage (hiking, sailing, ….) for emergency communications, and the like.

As a responsible care-taker of parents, at some point, if we are good children, then we’ll all need to face the reality that sometimes our elderly may need to reach out for help and we won’t be there to help them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get our seniors an Amazon Alexa, a Google Home, a Gotenna device and even if the celltowers fall, even if our parent falls and can’t reach the phone, they still have a fighting chance to get help?

The WSJ lays out an instance where an elderly lady fell and couldn’t get up, couldn’t reach her phone and tried to use Alexa to call 911 for help.  In my experience, my mother had her cable, power, telephone, and internet lines cut by a freak accident days before a hurricane hit her taking out her cell phone tower.  In another experience, a girl at Burning Man, out in the middle of the desert (with no cell signal) suffered third degree burns and couldn’t get help.

What’s the common thread?

911 access. There are many instances where we may need to ask for help… and sometimes we can’t simply pickup the phone to dial 911.  Home invasions, active shooters, domestic violence, infrastructural failures, deaf / HOH / elderly / children … to name a few.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple way to send a message to our first-responders or others in the community better situated to help without needing to use our voice, without relying on only one telecommunications service? Don’t we want a 911 service that is robust, intelligent, flexible? Don’t we want to provide backup channels to get the message out?  Isn’t, or shouldn’t, our goal be to promote the strongest, most capable, most accessible 911 service for our weakest members of society?

The FCC believes this to be true.

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So why am I blabbering about Gotenna?

Gotenna is the only reliable, accessible, inexpensive backup communications system that presently exists for 2019.  What about ham radio? It’s definitely good, but it requires an FCC license, study, an exam, and a fee.  Is it idiot proof? Would you feel safe leaving your Grandmother with a ham radio and being sure she’ll find the right channel and effectively get a message out?  Gotenna, on the other hand, serves as its own cell tower and local repeater. All in a package the size of a lighter and only $50 on ebay.  Gotenna Mesh uniquely broadcasts a loved one’s cry for help even when every other avenue of communications is down.  Gotenna sends out the message and if any other Gotenna within miles does have any form of service, it can relay the message out to the telephone network.  Which is great! Except that, for some reason, it will not forward the message to 911.  Any other number in the world can be reached, but for some reason, Gotenna will not allow 911 emergency messages.  Digging deeper, Gotenna relies on a cloud-based IP to telephone service provider, Twilio, and Twilio squarely forbids any emergency messages. Why is this?

So what other options are there? Well, Amazon Alexa and Google Home would be great! All she needs to say is “Alexa, call 911.” Unless well-meaning legislation or administrative rules created a disincentive from Amazon or Google providing 911 access (as is presently the case).

Tens of thousands of 911 PSAP call centers covering our biggest cities are ready, willing, and able to accept text 911 messages.  Sure, there’s more work to do to expand coverage out to our poorest counties and states… but text-to-911 is a mature service providing a last line of defense to tens of millions of Americans.

So, why won’t Amazon, Google, Twilio, Gotenna put the last brick in place to enable our loved ones to reach out for help?

Could it be that Amazon, Google, Twilio, Gotenna, and others truly don’t care about Americans? About saving lives? About providing an avenue for help?

Have their lawyers determined that it simply isn’t worth the risk? and having to contribute minuscule fees to 911 centers?

While Twilio does provide sms delivery services for Gotenna, their primary and most lucrative business is automating commercial text delivery (robotexts) marketing or advertising products or political candidates.  To these ends they’ve argued time and again in front of the FCC that text messages are an inalienable First Amendment Free Speech right.  They’ve argued that telecommunications services and providers are mere common carriers – obliged to dutifully deliver whatever they’ve been entrusted with (parcels, letters, telephone calls, and text messages).  Any attempts to interfere with Twilio’s text messages (such as  Verizon saving Grandma from a million annoying “spam” robotexts) would violate their First Amendment rights to have the message dutifully delivered without interference.  Thus, Twilio feels that they are, by extension, common carriers as well, a dutiful mailman, that neither deliberates or is unfaithful, but merely delivers the messages come rain, snow, sleet, or hail.  Twilio makes no judgment calls on hate speech, Nazi propaganda, child porn, fraudulent scam texts, they just deliver the message… UNLESS that message is a cry for help, a desperate message sent to 911. And in that case, Twilio, Gotenna, Amazon, Google, and others, argue that hey, we aren’t a telecommunications provider, we aren’t a common carrier, we are something new, tertium quid and the rules shouldn’t apply to us and we shouldn’t have to chip in towards community 911 access fees.

So if Twilio walks, talks, and acts like a duck (and argues in front of the FCC that they are a duck in Court)… shouldn’t we treat them like a duck? Hopefully, Twilio, Google, Amazon, and Gotenna will start doing the right thing and providing 911 access.  How can we help them with suitable rule-making / tweaking / cutting red tape / deregulating to avoid creating a perverse dis-incentive to new “information service” providers from offering basic community emergency access? Aren’t they estopped from arguing that they aren’t telecommunications providers?

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Is Gotenna Mesh Dead?

Has Gotenna corporate killed Gotenna Mesh in its endless chase of profits over people? It’s now been almost 5 months since any updates to the Gotenna Mesh app on Android Play store.  The USB software developers kit (SDK) is almost 4 months overdue. It’s been more than a year since Gotenna defaulted on their promises to build a critical backbone of hundreds of Gotenna Mesh Devices in Puerto Rico to connect the hundreds of thousands in the central mountainous regions hardest hit in the hurricanes.

SDK

While 6 months without an update may be reasonable in some instances, critical vulnerabilities were unveiled at DefCon 26 by @Recompiler which basically pwned Gotenna devices. He was able to leak location data from sophisticated developers that didn’t even have a Gotenna device on them – showing us where they liked to eat lunch in both San Francisco and Brooklyn.  He was able to take advantage of encryption implementation flaws, rendering communications public. He was able to show a man in the middle and impersonation attacks.  And there’s been no update.

More concerning, Gotenna has offered no updates or statements on the girl who almost died at Burning Man back in August after naively relying, to her detriment, on the Gotenna SOS Emergency broadcast / beacon mode.  No statement has been made or any switch from Twilio to an sms backhaul provider that will allow Gotenna Plus Sms Relay (R) to text 911 services.  Nothing has been done to address the problem that the five-click SOS mode may not have accurate GPS location.  Nothing has been done to address backhaul to emergency services / 911 / 999 / GEOS.  Nothing has been done to address the security vulnerabilities demonstrated at DefCon.  And nothing has been done with respect to Puerto Rico.

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In stark contrast, Gotenna has put all of their efforts into a wholly incompatible Gotenna-Pro model (which operates on 140 MHz vhf and 440 MHz uhf) which is wholly unable to respond, receive, or relay gotennaMesh emergency SOS messages (902-928MHz ISM band).  In spite of the fact that it’s a software defined radio with modular antenna.

gotenna pro

GotennaPro android app was updated in November.  GotennaPRO usb SDK was released months ago to private operators? But no updates for Gotenna Mesh or release of SDK. GotennaPro employees FINALLY are in Puerto Rico range-testing with drones and helos to relay messsages from Orocovis to Bayamon to San Juan!?! While this is a very good sign, it’s somewhat disheartening that only now, a year after we did our own range tests and proof of concepts and started implementing a Gotenna Mesh network, that we are recreating the wheel but with a GotennaPro technology that our families, communities, and volunteers are not even legally allowed to use.  Moreover, the Gotenna Pro takes up to FIVE TIMES as much power and TEN TIMES ($499) the expense of the Gotenna Mesh unit.  When the towers fall again, our abuelas won’t be able to afford or keep these things powered.  Gotenna Pro does nothing for our communities – instead, it’s a return to centralized infrastructure in the hands of the government alone.  With millions in funding from the federal government, hundreds of thousands of Gotenna Mesh devices sold to consumers, and tens of thousands of dollars in public donations for the Puerto Rico Gotenna Mesh backup network, surely we can do better.  Stakeholders deserve a public commitment to the Gotenna Mesh technology not a bait-and-switch scam selling us a 10x more expensive version that no one can use, that renders Gotenna Mesh the same as a BetaMax (and that can’t even receive calls for help from our communities).

pro update

If (being charitable) PR Reconnects, Javier Malave, PR Science and Trust, Starting Point, et al., built-up 20 some Gotenna Mesh relays around San Juan, some in Barranquitas, Toa Alta, Bayamon, and Naguabo, why would we now switch to Gotenna Pro which is 10x more expensive, requires 5x more power, and is wholly incompatible with this build-out already in progress? The mere fact that they are more profitable to Gotenna shouldn’t assuage our concerns but should enrage our passions! Where are the hundreds of Gotenna Mesh that were promised to Puerto Rico? They certainly aren’t on the imeshyou.com map over a year after funding was fully raised by the community.  Where are the tens of thousands of dollars we donated?

GOTENNAMESH  A good start, but hardly the 300 Gotenna Mesh units promised to Puerto Rico

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Ham Radio, A Lost Art On The Verge Of Extinction? And A Possible Remedy:

Amateur Radio is on the brink of extinction.  As we lose these courageous souls, we are missing the opportunity to share knowledge with the next generation.  Ham radio clubs are dwindling in numbers – having only aging, gray beard members – and largely only men.  How do we reinvigorate this society? How do we get the general public interested in communications when they have a false sense of security with their iPhones?

We need to remove the barriers to entry and make it welcoming to new members curious about emergency communications in general terms (not limited to licensed ham radio).  There’s a sort of elitism and a myopic focus on FCC licensed long-range HF operation and hundred to thousand dollar rigs.  However, this is too esoteric and does not welcome noobs.  Instead, we must all be Elmers and share the spectrum of options, teaching the general public simple things they can do and encouraging those who are interested to focus more. We must be welcoming to everyone in the community and help them learn options available with even a passing interest – acknowledging that not everyone is going to take the FCC tests or ICS / NIMS certifications.  Instead, how can we welcome everyone and at least share pointers on how they can maximize their chances of survival in a disaster with near zero preparation and tens of dollars, not hundreds.  Let’s face it, most people do not prepare in advance – instead they react only at the last minute when the storm is on the horizon or after the earthquake.  Most people won’t spend $200 for their first radio.

At every amateur radio meeting, club, hamfest, field-day I’ve been to, there’s an elitism that pushes the average person away (What’s your callsign? What level of certification do you have? What gear do you have?). People do not feel comfortable here.  If we are to survive, we need to make our clubs, meetings, hamfest, and field days more accessible to the public, less esoteric, less mystical.  We need to style our meetings as e.g., Emergency or Disaster of Off-Grid Communications.  We need to focus on the outdoor community (hikers, sailors, campers, burners), preppers, off-grid enthusiasts, activists, veterans, volunteers, but also on everyday families worried about how to call for help when the tower falls or how to reach each other at medium to intermediate distances (from work to school to home).  We need to stop sneering at people with bubble-wrap walkies and instead welcome them into the fold as one layer of communications.  As they learn, they will see the limitations and seek better options like ham or mesh technologies.

As we see over and over again, when disaster strikes, the towers fall and the ubiquitous iPhone / wifi infrastructure fails us.  So how can we communicate without towers or in a degraded capacity? What options are out there to get information and/or share information in the event of a disaster without classes or licensure? What could work and what are the limitations? Well, several options may exist depending on your situation:

Call 911 Different phones have different service providers and different frequency bands.  For a simplified example, Verizon and Sprint are generally CDMA, while ATT and Tmobile are generally GSM – and they are generally incompatible.  But, if you have a global phone or an unlocked device, you may be able to access any tower in a 911 call – not just your particular carrier.  While you may not be able to get a signal to call family/friends or access data, you might still be able to call 911.  In an emergency, your phone (depending on model) may be able to use ANY compatible tower to call 911 (even if you don’t have a sim card or active subscription with that carrier).  Dig out your old cellphones and charge them.  Get to an elevated position and try to call 911 with each phone in succession. At the fringes of reception, your head may block reception, so try facing one direction, and then try facing another direction (i.e., 180 degrees opposite).

SMS / Text messages  at the most basic level, when the towers haven’t all fallen, but they are merely too congested to support live bi-directional voice or 4G data, you may still be able to send a text / simple message service (sms) message (but these may be delayed and/or lost).  Ask for confirmation and assume that it didn’t go through.  Some counties and bigger cities have text 911 service.  If you can’t call, if calling puts you in danger, or if you are hard of hearing, you may be able to reach emergency services by texting 911 (as a last resort).  If your county does not offer this, you should get a bounce-back text message informing you that it did not go through.  If you are experiencing a home invasion or active shooter situation, you may want to silence your ringer before texting as the bounceback or further communications with the 911 operator may give you away.  Generally, calling 911 and staying on the line even if you can’t talk is still a better option as the operator will get your location, and be able to prompt you to signal your emergency by pressing a button or some other manner.  Some important things to note: text 911, unlike calling 911 may not work on ANY carrier’s towers and may require an active subscription and sim card – also, 911 centers may not get a precise location from a text and may not be able to receive pictures, audio, video, or even emojis. Some 911 centers report that an emoji might even result in disconnection or misrouting of the emergency message.  Keep it simple, concise, and give your location as best as you can.

SOS mode – Some devices like Apple and Samsung offer an SOS or emergency alert mode (accessed by tapping the power button 5 times or 3 times in the case of Samsung).  It’s important to note that there is nothing magical here, these all rely on voice 911 and/or texts to 3rd parties like loved ones and friends – AND they must be preconfigured in-advance under settings.  This may be very helpful if you are being kidnapped or other situation.  However they may be a double-edged sword… if they use speakerphone to contact 911, the suspect now knows what’s coming.  It’s best to get to know what options you have and how the alert feature works before you are in an actual emergency. The newest Apple watch even has a feature that detects a fall and may automatically act to get help based on your detected biometrics.  This may be helpful in a heart-attack or epileptic seizure type situation.

Wifi/3G- (e.g., Whatsapp / Facebook Messenger / Signal / Zello*) –   If you don’t have cellular, but you can find a working wifi signal, perhaps you may be able to use a data-based message service like facebook messenger, twitter, signal, whatsapp… often-times, buried lines (like fiber optics) may still survive.  It is important to ask for confirmation or check that the message was received.  However, without working cellular data or wifi, these communication methods will not work.

Wired Landline phone – many homes nowadays use wireless phones (which require power for the basestation) and/or use voice over ip (VOIP) piggybacking over your broadband home internet connection.  These may not work in a power outage.  However, some services have a backup battery that may keep your broadband router working for a short time after the power has gone out.  If this does not work, you may be able to connect an old, wired phone to a copper jack at the point of entry to the home and still call 911.

Visual Semaphores  – If all else fails, in a widespread disaster, you may be able to write/paint on your driveway or roof to ask for help.  If you are at sea or in a military area, you may be able to signal for help using morse code. A very simple dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot (…—…) where dot (.) is a relatively brief signal and dash (-) is a relatively longer signal means SOS and may bring help.  If you are visible, you may outstretch your arms, raising them and lowering them from your sides.  Continuously holding your vehicle horn or actuating in three round bursts.  A makeshift mirror can be used to signal aircraft overhead.  Get creative.

Satellite Devices – whereas terrestrial communications may fail or be overwhelmed, satellite communications devices will generally still work during most emergencies.  It is important to note that in most situations they will NOT WORK out of the box, but instead must be registered with active internet or telephone service before use.  Most require not only an initial registration, but also an active subscription.  Prices are falling like crazy though.  Two recent models, e.g., Garmin InReach Explorer ($450ish) or the Spot-X device ($250) provide for text like messages (BUT NOT VOICE) and rudimentary access to social media and do not require a year-long based subscription, but allow for seasonal activation or month to month service (about $14 a month).  This may be a very attractive option if you are in a hurricane area provided that you set this up in advance.

Mesh Network /Adhoc software (e.g., BridgeFy, FireChat, AirDrop…) – unfortunately, these options only work at VERY SHORT RANGE – ranges that a loud yell might work better and more reliably than these options.  However, if you are in a very populous area such as a university dorm, hospital, senior center, or disaster shelter, these options may work if you need to keep in touch at very short distances (e.g. 100m).  The cool thing is that if you get everyone to install it, then each device acts as a repeater and the messages can relay amongst your community to get much better range.  The downside to this is that they must generally be installed and registered before you lose connection to the outside world.  If you search for, e.g., BridgeFy or Firechat “.apk” you may be able to download an offline installation file that you could share with a memory stick, memory card, wifi hotspot or via bluetooth or airdrop to share with your friends.  This is important because, while you may have very sporadic internet (maybe not enough to support multiple megabyte installations from the play store) you may have enough to register the device.  But, like every thing, you should practice use before it’s needed to understand its limitations.

Mesh Network hardware (e.g., Gotenna, Sonnet Labs, …) – unlike the software approach, these devices are starting to bear fruit, Gotenna for example is widely deployed (see for example their user-generated map at http://imeshyou.com ) and offers great range, technically line of sight – but more realistically .6 miles in a noisy urban environment, 2-4 miles in the country, or up to 69 miles with creative elevation.  At the size of a highlighter this can be velcroed to a drone, elevated up to 400 feet in the air and given some serious distance.  Each Gotenna acts as a signal repeater meaning that your message can hop up to six times rebroadcasting and extending your range by cooperative re-transmission with users in your community.  Applications like TxTenna / Samourai wallet even allow bitcoin transmissions without access to the outside world.  Gliderlink offers tactical mapping and coordination. Mesh Developers toolkit offers internet backhaul, scripting, beacon services. And a 30 day free trial of Gotenna Plus offers SMS relay meaning that even if you don’t have service, you can relay a text message through any other gotenna device nearby out to the outside world to anyone with a cellphone.  Unlike the software mesh options, Gotenna allows offline installations with the .apk file and does not require registration before use.  At about $50 each, this is becoming a very attractive option for offline, license-free communication.

Walkie Talkies (e.g., FRS, GMRS, MURS…) – Walkie Talkies are available at nearly every store such as walmart, target, best buy, REI… and they may work for your group or family provided that you will remain in very close proximity to each other.  They likely will not have the power or ubiquity to get outside help – but they may work up to a quarter of a mile away (depending on terrain and noise).  GMRS is better than FRS. But any device purchased in haste without research likely will only transmit at a fraction of a watt.  MURS devices are relatively new and may have longer range, but will generally be expensive and you may not be able to reach out for help from others outside your group.

Citizens’s Band (CB) – CB has potential for long range communications depending on your setup but will work particularly well near interstate highways.

Marine Band – Marine band has potential for medium distance communications depending on your setup but will generally only work well at reaching others near navigable waterways.

Ham Radios (HF, VHF, UHF…)  – ham radios have the greatest potential to reach the greatest number of people at the greatest ranges possible, but generally require an FCC license to use.  The most basic level (Technician) is very easy to pass but will require a day or so of study depending on your level of familiarity with basic electronics.  Unfortunately, the Technicians license only allows operation of VHF/UHF radios which generally only have a local (e.g. several miles range) but if repeaters are available in your area this may allow communications up to about 30 miles.  Note that these repeaters towers are generally lowered during a hurricane and may not survive extended power outages.  For longer distance communications, using HF (relatively low frequencies that bounce off of the atmosphere and can travel hundreds to thousands of miles) you will need to pass the intermediate (General) level of FCC licensure.  This is not very difficult with several days or weeks of study.

NOAA Weather / FM Radio* – While this only allows you to receive information and not send messages, a NOAA radio may be setup to give you an alert using the FM radio towers which tend to be more resilient and have broader range than celltowers.  The Next Radio app (free) allows you to unlock many phones to receive FM broadcasts even if the celltowers and wifi are down, using a pair of headphones or an aux cable as an antenna.

*This will be updated shortly – but I wanted to give a rough idea for a syllabus of other options that may be more inclusive than merely ham/amateur radio options.  Local amateur radio groups may want to consider a radically inclusive meeting / event that seeks to bring in ANY member of the community concerned about communication options available to them in the event of a disaster / emergency to help their families and neighbors.  This discussion may provide a nice segue to the enhanced benefits of HF and ham radio once they see the shortcomings with just an iphone or just a UHF/VHF BaoFeng.

 

 

 

 

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Several Unaddressed Gotenna Mesh / Twilio Emergency SOS Shortcomings

Emergency communications are important… maybe not today. Hopefully not tomorrow. But disaster strikes when we least expect it. If we are wholly unprepared… it may hurt you and those you love.

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After a solid year of earnestly trying to iron out the wrinkles with Gotenna, it’s only prudent to look at other options for when the towers fall.  Gotenna has great potential, and if they don’t screw it all up, they may have a great product soon.  However, in my humble opinion, it’s still only half-baked.  The central premise of Gotenna mesh is that it has fatfingered emergency communications and amateur / ham radio / CB / Murs / FRS / GMRS walkie talkies … by marrying with smartphones…making it easy for anyone to use without any worry of navigating the maelstrom of treacherous federal legislation that is FCC and DOC/DHS export restrictions.  Gotenna automatically determines your location based on gps and configures what frequencies and power settings you are allowed to use without any license needed whatsoever, wherever in the world you are.  Not only that, but Gotenna ensures that when you use it, you can’t accidentally interfere with any preexisting official or emergency communications channels ANYWHERE in the world.  And, most importantly, Gotenna wholly obviates the need to learn anything about electrical engineering, radio theory, or complicated vcr-like radio settings screens.  Any idiot can use Gotenna because it works on your phone and holds your hand guiding you the whole way and helping you ignore settings you don’t need.  It’s the iphone of amateur radio / emergency communications.  In a lot of ways, it’s the BaoFeng of radios – with a little searching, you can get one for less than $50.  It’s so cheap that there’s no entry barrier for new users.  But yet, it’s an American company with solid quality control and built here in the Americas. Not likely to have Chinese backdoors, user manuals exclusively in Chinese, or their notorious quality control 😉  … and Gotenna is wholly legal to toss in your suitcase and take anywhere in the world.  It uses Australian open-source encryption, Bouncy Castle, so there’s no worry of violating federal or international law without an export/import license.

However, there are some outstanding issues and inherent flaws in the Gotenna Mesh and Gotenna Pro devices which stop them from being widely adopted… yet, and may make it dangerous to deploy or rely on.

1. Gotenna Mesh offers Emergency Chat and Emergency SOS features, along with a headless mode that doesn’t even require a working phone to call for help.  Loved ones can click the power button five times and trigger the SOS beacon with a preprogrammed emergency message (e.g., name, address, blood type, backup contacts, phone number, radio channel & callsign…)  However, there is NO CONSPICUOUS warning that the Gotenna device does NOT have a gps chip.  So any gps location being transmitted in this SOS Emergency broadcast mode MAY NOT HAVE ACCURATE LOCATION of the call for help.  That’s kind of dangerous.

2. Gotenna Mesh offers SMS Relay mode (basically, if you have no service, this allows you to send simple cellphone text messages and gps location across the internet to anyone in the world even if you don’t have any internet or cellsignal, by way of the Gotenna radio, itself, through ANY other Gotenna user within tens of miles of range* who does have a working signal.  HOWEVER, again, there is no conspicuous warning to users, that there are some serious flaws with this text relay.  For example, this feature ONLY SENDS ONE WAY messages – there is NO WAY to receive any response to your message.

3. Another huge flaw is that Gotenna nowhere conspicuously warns their users that these SMS text messages, or even their Emergency SOS, or Emergency Chat features are not and cannot ever be delivered to 911, 999, Geos, or ANY emergency Call Center (PSPAPs).  Literally cannot be sent.  It violates the sms relay service (Twilio) that Gotenna uses to deliver these messages across the internet.  For some reason, Gotenna will not answer questions about why they won’t consider using another sms relay provider, like, e.g., Bandwidth.com / @Bandwidth that gladly offer 911 Text Relay services (#Text911).

4. Yet another gamestopper is that inasmuch as Gotenna Mesh CANNOT operate in bidirectional mode in text sms (or even provide unidirectional message to 911 services)… then you are limited from communicating effectively, in an emergency, with anyone who does not have a Gotenna Mesh device.  The problem with this, is that Gotenna, Inc. markets and sells an incompatible product, the Gotenna PRO device, to first-responders- which does not work whatsoever with Gotenna Mesh devices.  The device first responders have cannot ever receive, or even locate, a Gotenna Mesh device held by survivors – even in Emergency mode.

In sum, a loved one could easily trigger the Emergency SOS mode thinking that their message will ultimately be delivered to someone who can help.  However, (1) even if their message gets through, the other party may have no idea where they are – and can’t ask for clarification; (2) and even if it fails they may never get a warning that it didn’t go through; (3) it will never even attempt to deliver the message to 911; and (4) first-responders nearby cannot receive the message with the devices they are likely to carry.

So, my recommendation, is to get you and your loved-ones Ham Radio certified.  You can get your Technician class license in under 8 hours of study on ARRL.org for free.  You only need to pay about $15 to take the test. It’s only 35 questions drawn from a pool of 423 questions.  You only need to get 26 right.  Especially if you are a geek or electrically disposed, at all, most of the questions are common-sense.  @Hoshnasi has some really great recommendations on his youtube channel and walks you through the test, what radio to buy (e.g., BaoFeng UV-5r ($19), Yaesu FT-60 ($149ish), and how to avoid interfering with emergency or official communications.

If you are a geek, get yourself a usb SDR like RTL-SDR for about $10 on ebay with an antenna that will work with your laptop or home pc.  If you are a mobile geek, get a USB-C to USB-A (fullsize female) host dongle at walmart or online or a micro-USB on the go (OTG) to USB-A for use with your android tablet or phone.  The cool thing is that you can pickup ANY frequency, ANY channel FM/AM/NOAA/FRS/GMRS/MURS/ Ham UHF/VHF/ marine, air, police, fire, ems… with free software like SDR # or HDSDR.

If you are really cool, check out products like Mobilinkd or a wired modem, or even just 3.5 and 2.5mm cables to marry your smartphone/tablet/pc with your ham radio for advanced features like APRS for two way, long range, digital/analog tactical communications with automated GPS location reporting.

Nothing can prepare you like becoming familiar with what’s already out there- how to listen and how to ask for help when you really need it to help you, your loved ones, and neighbors in your community.  Once you are all setup, take a look at volunteering with groups like ARES.

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Uncategorized

A Puerto Rican Standoff…

CALL FIRST IF YOU CAN; text911 if you can’t

Oftentimes, when it’s most needed, people are unable to call 911.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to get a message to 911 when you just can’t call?

Luckily, alternative measures to reach out for help are starting to flourish.  Apple  iphones and iwatches offer a five-click SOS feature (which, while relying on voice for the 911 portion, automatically fires off a text messages with your gps location to trusted friends or family).  Samsung offers a three-click SOS feature on smartwatches and phones like the S9.  Likewise, Gotenna, a communications device primarily for offgrid hikers, that works over long-range radio even when there’s no coverage available, also offers the 5-click SOS beacon to anyone within radio range.  Yet none of these products offer a way to send a message with your location quickly and easily  to 911 and let you get back to actually surviving until they arrive.  None of these services offer the ability to send a text to 911.  Why is this?

After a disaster scenario, the need to get a quick message out to 911 is all the more important.  Cellphone towers and 911 call centers may be overwhelmed with voice calls to loved ones and millions of attempts to post status updates to facebook or youtube.

A voice call to 911 may not always be possible.  Realtime two-way voice connection to 911 requires a pretty substantial amount of emergency resources bandwidth- in terms of at least: (1) cellphone to tower; (2) backhaul to 911 PSAPs; (3) operator manpower to answer, assess, triage, and route to appropriate first responders, not to mention the first responder resources to actually effect help.

In severe disaster scenarios all 3 of the above limited emergency resources can be drawn very thin and cascading failures can ripple out through the community.

Text 911 (which could help get messages out while simultaneously reducing the burden on these 3 limited emergency resources needed for traditional calls to 911 call centers) has not been fully implemented across the nation yet- in spite of an FCC mandate for it to be operational nationwide by 2014.  However, some increasingly disaster-prone places have fully implemented this service — some having had it for several years. Notably, Puerto Rico has had text911 since 2014 in all 78 municipalities, Los Angeles, DC, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Austin, Jacksonville, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Bernardino, … with NYC and Chicago soon to be added to the list, which goes on and on. It may not yet be ubiquitous. But we are talking TENS OF MILLIONS of people in at least 6 of the 10 most populous cities in the U.S. and several whole states have blanket coverage including Indiana, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware, and New Jersey, with Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, and Iowa set to join by year’s end.

CALL FIRST, and if you can’t, if you are deaf, hearing impaired, if you are in a domestic violence situation, if you are in the trunk of a car being kidnapped, if the celltowers are saturated with calls, if you don’t have reception, if your battery is about to die… countless situations could benefit from the use of text to 911 services.  However, due to red tape, service providers, like e.g., Twilio — the leading cloud-based text and voice provider squarely refuses to let ANY of their customers use this text911 because it violates their terms of service and acceptable use policy.

After hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed satellite uplinks, smashed celltowers, radio repeaters, and power generation and delivery, made spaghetti out of telephone lines- the only operable communications platform available was Gotenna Mesh. It was uniquely attractive because it didn’t require telecommunications uplinks, didn’t require internet, cellphone, radio repeater nets, generators, FCC licensure, or the infrastructure links likely to fail. It was its own repeater network, it sipped its own battery power, it could be charged from a cellphone charger or a tiny solar panel and yet still give miles of range. When any single node in a Gotenna mesh had a signal, messages from anyone could be backhauled out to anyone in the world — anyone, including Puerto Rico or Houston’s text 911 system.

Gotenna is uniquely effective because it bypasses the weakest links in the telecommunications chain AND it addresses all 3 of the scarce emergency resources most likely to experience cascading failures: (1) using Gotenna to deliver gps-tagged text messages (a few hundred bytes in a single latency-tolerant data envelope) significantly frees up celltower voice bandwidth (tens of kilobytes per second per user); (2) frees up backhaul from the celltower to the 911; (3) frees up operators to respond to voice calls and allows a level of automation, triage, AI agent response, de-duplication, and gps authentication; and (4) where first responders are in the area (within up to six hops, where each hop can be between 1 and 62 miles) the first responders can respond directly to the request for help without any intervening infrastructure (in fact, the first responders automatically and without any degradation to their Gotenna become part of the infrastructure, filling in gaps as they search and rescue) — yet further, those with Gotenna devices often become volunteer responders, helping their neighbors and obviating the very need for outside assistance, freeing scarce first responder resources. Gotennas develop communities.

The only thing standing in our way, at least in Puerto Rico and Houston, and for tens of millions of other Americans, are provider’s like Twilio’s acceptable use policy. Perhaps they’ll reconsider- or perhaps Gotenna will consider another text relay provider that does allow text messages to be delivered to 911 call centers, like, e.g., Bandwidth or others? Lead, follow, or get the hell out of our way. It may not be as easy as flipping a switch… but it’s an endeavor worth making with tens of millions of Americans in areas who could benefit. Is it a silver bullet? No, emphatically no… but it gives a fighting chance where Twilio, in stark contrast, is content to fail us by never even trying.

Bandwidth.com

“…who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Can we at least try?

Here’s a crazy idea… Twilio may not allow this on their text relay, but they seem to allow it on their elastic sip trunking, and they have an option to pre-define an emergency location. If there’s no other way to proceed, could Twilio servers receive the text911 message, run text and gps to voice, and deliver the message via the voip approach to traditional 911 voice PSAP centers? This would obviate their concerns about non-ubiquitous text911 service and sidestep the AUP for text relay.

#Twilio #Twilions #TwilioDontCare #ProfitsOverPeople Twilio.com Jeff Lawson, CEO jeffiel@twilio.com jeffiel Twilio Twilions #Gotenna #GotennaMesh #Text911 #GotennaPlus #smsRelay #PuertoRico #Taino #Taina #Boricua #Houston #Irma #Maria #Hurricanes Text911 Text 911

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View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com