Congress, FCC Work to Improve E911

Channel Partners

March 7, 2003

3 Min Read
Congress, FCC Work to Improve E911

David Koon, a New York State Assemblyman, testified Wednesday a 911 dispatcher unable to locate his daughter listened helplessly as she was being murdered. Jennifer Koon, a college sophomore, had called 911 from her wireless phone after being kidnapped in the parking lot of a shopping center Nov. 13, 1993.

A 911 system capable of tracking her whereabouts would have possibly saved her life.

“Somehow Jennie managed to dial 911 for help from her car phone. However, the 911 dispatcher was unable to locate her,” Koon said before the Senate Commerce Committee on Communications. “The dispatcher listened helplessly to the last twenty minutes of Jennie’s life. It is this personal family tragedy that prompted my involvement in public service – to help make New York a safer place.”

Ten years later the country’s 911 infrastructure remains ill equipped to locate the precise origin of a wireless call. But representatives of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission say they are determined to change that.

“Currently e-911 is moving forward but the pace of deployment needs to be quickened,” Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said. To help achieve that goal, members of Congress and public safety organizations introduced an E-911 Caucus last month.

For its part the FCC says it is stepping up enforcement action to ensure wireless carriers comply with deadlines to upgrade their networks for 911 tracking capabilities. A recent case in point: On Wednesday the FCC released a notice of apparent liability, proposing that T-Mobile USA Inc. pay a $1.25 million forfeiture for violations of the 911 rules. The regulator also plans to launch an E911 “Coordination Initiative” next month following the findings and recommendations of E911 expert Dale Hatfield, a former FCC chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology.

The rules date back to 1996, when the FCC established two phases of E911 deployment affecting wireless carriers. Under phase one wireless carriers are required to provide the designated public safety answering point the number of the person making the 911 call and the cell site location or base station receiving the call from a mobile handset.

Carriers were required to comply with the rules by April 1, 1998, or within six months of a valid request by a designated safety answering point. The FCC states that five of the six national wireless carriers report completing 70 percent or more of the requests, and AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless disclosed having met 90 percent of the phase one requests. There are an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 public safety points across the country.

But FCC commissioners said Wednesday state funding gaps and technological problems are impeding phase two developments, which are aimed to pinpoint the precise location of a 911 caller. Wireless carriers have until Dec. 31, 2005 to mostly put the wraps on phase two, but the FCC has no jurisdiction over the emergency centers and their ability to receive data, commissioners say.

“Unfortunately because of budget cuts many jurisdictions do not have the required funding to upgrade their PSAPs so that they are technologically ready to support phase II implementation,” FCC commissioners Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Jonathan S. Adelstein said in a joint statement before Congress. “We recognize that a continuing set of delays could seriously hinder E911 deployment and therefore could reduce the safety of life services for all Americans.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D. – N.Y.), who helped formed the E911 Caucus, said in testimony tens of millions of dollars collected from 911 charges in New York “have been diverted over the last several years for reasons completed unrelated to 911 upgrades.”

“We must ask ourselves, what good are the FCC’s mandates on wireless carriers to implement new tracking technologies if they keep getting extended because those on the receiving end can’t respond,” the senator said.

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