FCC official calls for 911-community input in non-service-initialed (NSI) phone proceeding
DENVER—Rules addressing the ability for non-service-initialized (NSI) device to call 911 is the subject of an ongoing proceeding, and the FCC would like to get additional information on the subject from the emergency-calling community before next week’s reply-comment deadline, an FCC official said this week.
“For a variety of reasons, the commission felt it was time to re-evaluate that rule and potentially sunset it, because the reasons for its adoption in the mid-1990s, when the E-911 system was first getting under way,” David Furth, deputy director of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, said yesterday during a session at the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2015 conference.
NSI devices are not subscribed to a particular cellular carrier, so they cannot be used to access a carrier network—typically, they are older phones that are discarded when a subscriber upgrades to a new phone or a subscription contract is cancelled.
When E-911 rules were created almost 20 years ago, the FCC required these that NSI cell phones retain their ability to call 911. Programs were established to collect NSI phones and distribute them to people in need—domestic-violence victims being a prime example—so they could dial 911 in case of emergency.
However, the proliferation of wireless devices throughout the society has reduced the need for NSI phones for this purpose, as most people have their own cellular devices. Meanwhile, NSI phones have created headaches for public-safety answering points (PSAPs), because they are often are used to call 911 for non-emergencies, which occupies valuable resources that could be used to address legitimate emergency calls.
“We think the need for the [NSI] rule has decreased, and there many unintended consequences of the rule, which PSAPs live with every day—in terms of unnecessary harassing and burdensome phone calls that seem to come disproportionately from NSI phones—that have created an enormous technical, administrative and financial burden for PSAPs, so the commission has determined that it’s time to consider whether the rule should be phased out,” Furth said.
In comments received in the proceeding to date, the FCC has received information that note some conditions that the agency should address “with particular care,” if it decides to change the NSI rules, Furth said.
“Personally, I don’t think that they change my perspective on where the commission needs to go, but we may need to address some issues in terms of how we get there,” he said.
Furth said the FCC would like more information from the PSAPs and others in the 911 community about the scope of the problem.
“We’ve gotten again a uniform reaffirmation in the record that this continues to be a major problem for PSAPs, … but I think we could use more data in the record,” Furth said.
“It would help to firm up our analysis of what is the percentage of calls coming into PSAPs from NSI phones, what percentage of those are unnecessary or harassment calls—repeat calls from the same number—and what calls are from those who still depend on NSI phones to actually contact 911. There are still some who depend on that NSI phone as their lifeline to call 911, if they need it.”
With this in mind, the FCC would like input on possible alternatives to NSI devices that could be leveraged in the future by those that need a 911-only device, Furth said.
“There are many alternatives that exist, or are coming into play, that can address needs for those that might have depended on NSI phones in the past,” he said. “A good example of that, I think, is text to 911. One of the issues that has been raised in the record is the concern that you have people that are in domestic-violence situations who might depend on NSI phones as a lifeline. But we’ve seen that text to 911 actually might be more effective for people in that situation, where a voice call—even from an NSI phone—might endanger them.
“We want to balance all of these things and make sure, on the one hand, that we are not jeopardizing the universality of access to 911 at the same time that we address the substantial burden that these calls continue to create for PSAPs, in terms of diverting resources from calls that really need answers and people who really need help.”