Earth to wireless carriers: Get serious about E9-1-1
Want to set a comm center/PSAP manager’s teeth on edge?
Ask about wireless 9-1-1 calls. Ask whether the public safety answering point’s CRTs display location information from wireless phones.
Then watch the manager’s jaw start working.
The FCC has required wireless carriers either to select and install network-based location equipment, or to sell and activate location-capable handsets. But carriers aren’t taking FCC deadlines seriously enough. Or in the case of network equipment, some manufacturers may not be meeting federal requirements.
The good news: The nation’s landline telephone system allows virtually all emergency calls to be placed to a single number. Important — some say, vital — information about the caller and the call’s point of origin reaches call-takers and responders.
The bad news: Increasingly, emergency calls originate from wireless telephones. An estimated 25% of emergency calls in Connecticut originate from wireless phones, just as one example.
In May, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association said wireless emergency service calls totaled more than 51 million in 2000 — nearly 140,000 per day, or 96 per minute.
Currently deployed technology associated with emergency calls from these phones doesn’t always reach the admirable standard set by call-handling systems for landline calls.
Wireless carriers that have implemented the FCC’s Phase I requirements are prepared to deliver a callback number and cell site location information to PSAPs.
Phase II requires carriers to begin delivering more precise location information about wireless calls to the emergency number. For carriers wanting to use handset-based technology, the FCC requires them to begin selling and activating location-capable handsets on Oct. 1. This is where high-tech kicks in — along with high costs.
The carriers want someone — someone else — to pay for their costs. PSAPs want someone to pay for theirs. “Cost recovery” it’s called in the business.
My landline phone bill includes an 18-cent E9-1-1 tax, but my wireless phone bill doesn’t. How much tax would cover my local PSAP’s costs? Wireless carriers’ E9-1-1 cost recovery probably won’t be listed separately, but the PSAP’s might.
Enhanced 9-1-1 — the 9-1-1 service that provides detailed caller information — is a partnership between government and industry. As government programs go, it’s a good one, though it sometimes progresses slowly (as one could anticipate a government program might).
In the meantime, the AAA motoring and travel services organization has partnered with Airbiquity, a developer of wireless microdata delivery solutions, to field-test a portable location services device that attaches to existing cellular telephone handsets. AAA, which has been given quasi-public safety status in federal budget legislation, thus leapfrogs some wireless carriers and PSAPs. Not for public safety-type emergencies, mind you, but in offering “concierge” services to its members.
Test participants will call an AAA subsidiary, Response Services in Columbia, MD. Response Services operators will be able to view callers’ precise locations on a computer map display, allowing them to effectively deliver roadside assistance, directions and navigation, directory assistance and other services.
PSAPs don’t want “competition.” And AAA doesn’t want to attract public safety emergency calls. But if the public comes to know that an AAA Response Service operator can see where they are and a 9-1-1 call-taker might not, AAA might be fielding calls from people in more dire circumstances than it wants.
It comes down to teeth.
The FCC should put teeth into its deadlines for wireless E9-1-1 compliance.
Otherwise, the comm center/PSAP manager won’t have any left.