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February 21, 2014

FCC Acts to Ensure Better Wireless 9-1-1 Location Capabilities

Ever since the advent of VoIP on the fixed line side of things, and the explosion of mobile devices, finding the precise location of an individual in distress so that first responders can find them fast has been a problem.  It is a big one since in many instances literally seconds matter.

The fixed line issues are being addressed, but there remained challenges in wireless, particularly when it comes to indoor location capabilities.  The good news is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) is moving to address the problems in the wireless arena. The FCC voted in A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 14-13) to move forward on addressing wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy with proposed updates to the Commission’s Enhanced 911 (E911) rules especially from indoors, and take advantage of technological developments that allow for more accurate location information to be transmitted with 911 calls.

Find me anywhere I am wireless

The FCC estimates that 70 percent of 9-1-1 calls are placed from wireless phones and the industry estimates that at least 50 percent of these wireless 9-1-1 calls originate indoors. However, information for wireless calls to 9-1-1 placed from many indoor locations is often unreliable, failing to provide accurate information about the caller’s location.

Here is what the FCC is proposing based on its belief that technology has changed enough to enable more accurate location determination:

“The Commission proposes in the near term that wireless providers meet interim location accuracy metrics that would be sufficient to identify the building for most indoor calls.  The Commission also proposes that wireless providers deliver vertical location information that would enable first responders to identify the floor level for most calls from multi-story buildings.  In the long term, the Commission seeks to develop more granular indoor location accuracy standards that would require identification of the specific room, office, or apartment where a wireless 911 call is made.  These standards would rely on the advancing capabilities of indoor location technology and increasing deployment of in-building communications infrastructure.

The Commission also proposed additional steps to strengthen its existing E911 rules to ensure delivery of more timely, accurate, and actionable location information for all wireless 911 calls.  In addition, the Commission is seeking comment on whether to revisit its timeframe for replacing its current handset- and network-based location accuracy standards with a single standard in light of technological developments.”  

The next steps are for public comment, and the Commission expressed hope that the industry will come forward collaboratively with constructive suggestions. That said, reactions are already coming in from interested parties. For example, a wide range of emergency responders, 911 dispatchers and others interested in helping first responders find people facing emergencies have joined together with Find Me 911, determined to ensure that the 9-1-1 emergency location function works in today’s wireless age. Find Me’s Jamie Barnett expressed enthusiasm for the decision: "Today's unanimous vote to advance a rule on wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy will save lives. Too many wireless 9-1-1 calls lack fast and accurate location information, and emergency personnel often cannot locate those callers in need. Every dropped call or confused, scared, or unconscious caller is another unnecessary tragedy. The rule will help ensure that 9-1-1 works for every caller, indoors and outdoors, and the Find Me 911 coalition - and our 175,000 supporters - offer our gratitude and support to Chairman Wheeler and the other Commissioners for their leadership on this issue of vital public interest." 

This is one of those increasingly rare instances where the public interest and industry interests are in alignment, and while there are certainly longish time frames for the regulatory processes to work, the apparent lack of contention on the need to rectify the problems of indoor wireless location accuracy hopefully means solutions will be in place soon.  We will keep you posted as things progress.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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