Last week, the FCC proposed to update 911 regulations to require carriers to be able to locate 911 calls that are made indoors. The current rules were made in 1996 and only required carriers to locate outdoor calls. Then, the outdoor-only rule made sense. We used wireline indoors, and complex indoor technology wasn’t in sight. That is no longer the case. Nearly 73 percent of 911 calls in California are made from wireless phones. The FCC wants to start small; in the near term, wireless carriers would need to identify the building, as well as the floor, from where the call is being made. I’ll get to the proposed long-term rules in a bit.
How do I think this will play out? Dialing back in time to the turn of the century, you will recall that the carriers were stomping their feet in outrage over FCC rules that required carriers to send the location of an outdoor 911 call to dispatch centers. The word onerous was used generously by the carriers. K Street filled its pockets lobbying the FCC to water down location accuracy requirements and reporting. There were certainly some challenges complying with the FCC rules, but they were greatly overstated.
Back then, I served two terms on the board of the E911 Institute, which supported a caucus in Congress devoted to promoting emergency response. The board included wireless carriers, vendors and public safety professionals. While, on the face of it the carriers were providing support for E911, at the same time, they were working hard to take teeth out of the implementation. We will see how the carriers respond this time.
So let’s look at the FCC’s proposed rules for the long-term. The commission is proposing more detailed indoor location accuracy standards that would require identification of the specific room, office or apartment where a wireless 911 call is made. Imagine a call being placed from a college dorm or arena and the value is clear. And with regard to the technology, my retailer in the mall can trace my location throughout the mall, before and after I enter their store. As usual, the commercial arena has showed us what’s possible. Let’s see what the carriers say this time about stricter rules on location.