Following a meeting held on January 29, The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted a new set of regulations aimed at improving the location accuracy of 911 calls, especially for such calls originating indoors and above ground.
The adoption of new regulatory measures comes after a year of intense lobbying from many groups from across the spectrum of the public safety community. In November of last year a coalition composed of the major wireless carriers, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) forged a Consensus Plan aimed at increasing the accuracy of emergency calls in light of increased use of cell phones texting. Signatories hailed the plan as “superior to the proposal put forth by the FCC.”
A House Divided
The Consensus Plan was not without detractors. The Find Me 911 organization severely criticized the APCO-NENA sponsored plan, urging instead tighter accuracy regulations. The debate surrounding the Plan and the proposed regulatory parameters at times was acrimonious. “While APCO and NENA were able to reach this consensus plan with the significant support of its industry partners, over the entire course of these efforts, there has unfortunately been a sustained effort on the part of certain advocates to spread falsehoods, disinformation and confusion. These tactics are especially unfortunate given the significant public safety nature of the problems that all other well-intentioned and honorable parties are working hard to solve.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted the highly charged climate surrounding the issue. “The roadmap proposal [Consensus Plan] is a big step forward, but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders.” Steering a middle course, Wheeler urged his fellow Commissioners to take “advantage of the good work done by the carriers, APCO, and NENA, while also providing confidence-building measures and backstop thresholds that set clear targets and deadlines for improving indoor location and hold parties accountable for results.”
The New Ruling
While a complete text of the new Order has yet to be published, the FCC has issued preliminary remarks to the effect that the new regulations “establish clear and measureable timelines for wireless providers to meet indoor location accuracy benchmarks, both for horizontal and vertical location information.” In a clear nod to the technological hurdles that remain, the Commission’s ruling will allow carriers to explore “the most effective solutions and allow sufficient time for development of applicable standards, establishment of testing mechanisms, and deployment of new location technology.” The essential features of the new regulations include:
APCO issued a message hailing the new ruling. “APCO is pleased to announce that today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules to ensure that PSAPs and emergency responders have the information they need to find wireless 9-1-1 callers. Today’s action validates significant work by APCO and its partners to develop a “Roadmap for Improving E9-1-1 Location Accuracy” that focused on providing a dispatchable location and putting 9-1-1 solutions on pace with advances in commercial technology…. [I]n the face of relentless disinformation campaigns, we set the record straight and remained steadfast in pushing for the best solution for PSAPs and the citizens of our country. In our most recent membership communication, we highlighted the message of our public comments to the FCC that the Roadmap represents a qualitative improvement in indoor location by targeting the gold standard, a “dispatchable location” – meaning the civic address plus the floor, suite, apartment number, or other information needed to find the caller. In addition to championing a dispatchable location, APCO was adamant that any solution be technology-neutral and break public safety out of the cycle of reliance on imperfect, single-source or proprietary solutions to solve 9-1-1 problems.”
The Find Me 911Coalition issued a harsh criticism of the FCC’s regulations. “Unfortunately for millions of indoor 911 callers in need, the FCC has adopted the weak carrier roadmap over its own strong proposal. The Find Me 911 Coalition has been the strongest supporter of the Commission’s efforts to find wireless 911 callers indoors, but we have deep concerns that the final rule contains a catastrophic flaw, as it does not require the cell phone companies to measure or report indoor call accuracy.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern about the National Emergency Address Database in regard to citizens’ right to privacy.