The Journal Gazette



Monday, May 3, 1999
Edition: Final
Page: 10A

Let Jon Charleston be the last one to die.

Let his death be the catalyst for Indiana to resolve the stumbling blocks that have kept it from complying with federal law, which requires wireless companies be able to trace emergency cellular phone calls.

The first deadline, which much of Indiana hasn’t met, was April 1, 1998. A year and eight days later, Charleston died after his car crashed off of a rural Allen County road. He was awake and alert after the accident, and called 911 on his cellular phone. But he didn’t know where he was.

By the time his crumpled car was found two hours later, Charleston was dead.

Many people who buy cell phones do so for the extra security they think they’ll be getting in having a portable telephone. Many are stashed in cars and only used in emergencies, from a flat tire to a multicar wreck. There are about 1.5 million cell phone customers in Indiana.

But most people don’t know that — unlike conventional telephones — cell phone calls to 911 aren’t automatically traced. That is a serious flaw in this otherwise useful system.

This flaw was supposed to have been at least partially fixed a year before Charleston died.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission ordered wireless communications companies to upgrade their systems to meet “enhanced 911” needs:

By April 1998, the companies were to have upgraded their systems to the point that they could provide the location of the tower relaying a 911 call, narrowing a caller’s location to a five- to seven-mile radius.

By Oct. 1, 2001, all wireless companies are to have equipment that will allow for pinpointing the caller’s location to within 410 feet.

But there’s been little progress toward these mandates. And the FCC hasn’t clarified a number of issues that have bogged down the process in Indiana and across the country.

The biggest problem, according to Ken Lowden, director of communications for Steuben County and a member of the Indiana Enhanced Wireless 911 Advisory Board, is local telephone providers.

When a 911 call is made from a cell phone, the wireless provider must route that call through the local telephone exchange (usually a separate company) to reach the local emergency dispatching center.

But, Lowden said, many local telephone exchanges have been slow to allow wireless companies to connect to their 911 transfer service, mostly because they’re afraid they won’t make any money by providing the service.

That is unacceptable. Calls for emergency service shouldn’t earn a profit for anyone.

However, each company involved in the complicated tracking process should be reimbursed for its costs.

Sen. Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange, got a bill passed last year that set up the Wireless Enhanced 911 Advisory Board. That board uses money collected each month from cell phone users to pay for the upgrades to wireless towers and emergency dispatch centers and to reimburse local exchanges for routing 911 calls.

But that fee, set in Indiana at 65 cents a month, doesn’t cover all those costs.

If the problem is a lack of money, then increase the fees. But the FCC should also take steps to clarify who is responsible for what. The public’s safety is at stake.



All content © 1999 FORT WAYNE – THE JOURNAL GAZETTE and may not be republished without permission.


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