FCC Requires…

June 13, 1996

FCC requires cellular companies to locate, complete 911 calls

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators adopted rules Wednesday to helpemergency dispatchers locate people who call 911 from cellular phones. Thechange could save lives, public safety groups say.

Each year, millions of people call 911 from portable cellular phones but,unlike the same calls made from regular phones, the caller’s location is notautomatically sent to emergency dispatchers.

Knowing who the caller is and where he or she is calling from are vital toproviding a prompt response, 911 dispatchers and public safety groups say.

The Federal Communications Commission, in a 4-0 decision, said it wouldrequire cellular companies within five years to upgrade their networks withtechnology that tells 911 dispatchers the location of an emergency caller towithin 388 feet.

Until then, the FCC would require cellular companies within a year to 18months to give 911 dispatchers the capability to call back the person making a911 call.

”This will really enhance public safety, and I know it will save lives,”said FCC Commissioner Susan Ness.

In a commuter train wreck in New Jersey, several people on the train called911 from cellular phones but because dispatchers couldn’t pinpoint the callers’location and the callers didn’t know precisely where the train was, thecommunications were of little help to rescuers, public safety officials say.

When people call 911 from regular phones, 911 dispatchers automatically getthe number of the caller because it travels with the call over the telephonewire. The phone numbers are instantly matched with addresses on a data base.With cellular phones, the numbers are not linked to a location.

The FCC also adopted rules guaranteeing people access to 911 from cellularphones.

Right now there is no national requirement for 911 access over cellulartelephones as there is for regular telephones.

But the FCC rules, which would be phased in over a period of time, wouldensure that 911 calls be completed when a cellular customer ”roams” into areasin which his or her company does not have an agreement with the local cellularprovider to carry the call. Typically, in such cases, no calls can be completed.

The FCC rule would give special treatment to 911 calls.

The FCC, at the request of some consumer groups, will consider whether itshould adopt additional rules in the future that would require cellulartelephone owners to complete 911 calls – even if they have not activated theirphone by buying the service.

Under such a scenario, a person could go to a store and buy a cellular phone(which would have to be pre-programmed by the manufacturer), juice up thebattery and then press 911. The call would be sent to the nearest cellularcompany receiver, which would relay the call to an emergency dispatcher.

Cellular industry officials, oppose this, saying it would increase the numberof bogus emergency phone calls, which are already a problem in many markets.

Eighteen million calls to 911 were made over cellular phones in 1994, thelatest year for which information was available, the FCC said. At the end ofMarch, there were 36.5 million cellular customers in the United States,according to the Cellular Telecommunic-ations Industry Association.

Copyright 1996, TheAssociated Press