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May 20, 2016

Call Emergency: I Have Warm Feelings for John Oliver

If you watched “Last Week Tonight” this past Sunday on HBO, you learned about the problem with the existing 911 network and even the plans for next-gen 911.

I have felt like Chicken Little crying out that the sky is falling about the 911 emergency system. Having John Oliver bring up the situation was great, although his focus was a little skewed to the policy associated with Next Gen 911. He is right to point out that the advocates (my friends prefer that term to “lobbyists”) have successfully loosened the requirements so that location only has to be precise 80 percent of the time.

He also points out that Pizza, Uber, and every other app on the planet can deliver to you precisely wherever you are. What he does not point out is that one of the reasons the current 911-number is only 80 percent, is fear of abuse of this knowledge. It’s the negative side of Net Neutrality.

He also pointed to some of the robbing of the general funds to upgrade 911 to support more general funds (He shows NY Governor Andrew Cuomo being questioned), but the upgrade of Public Service Access Points (PSAPs) is being pilfered by levels of government.

The problems with 911 are three fold. The first is the age of the terminals. Most of them date back to the early 1980s, as do their interfaces. Therefore, the Internet is not a standard interface. Regardless of that, the interfaces for location-information are all based on historical telecom data sources.

Which brings up the second problem of accuracy. This is where Net Neutrality rears its ugly head. Smartphones find their locations by a lot of methodologies, while the phone network doesn’t. But the throat to choke on 911 is not Apple, Google or Samsung. It’s the service provider -- hence the lack of accuracy.

Which brings us to the final problem, which isn’t even on the radar of the FCC specifications. What to do with all the various forms of communication today? Should Facebook, Twitter, and video do it? Should the FCC mandate emergency service emails and twitter handles? If it sounds silly and according to the IT Crowd, it is funny. However, advocates are not going to be in favor of it.

And it is not likely to be in the FCC’s jurisdiction anytime soon.

And this may be the biggest problem: John Oliver, thanks for sharing, but can you help do something about it?

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