FCC’s Rosenworcel says non-service-initialized (NSI) phone policy for calling 911 should be changed
Non-service-initialized (NSI) cell phones—devices that that are not subscribed to a wireless carrier—no longer should be able to call 911 as they are today, because circumstances have changed substantially since the policy was established almost 20 years ago, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said during the recent APCO Emerging Technology Forum in Atlanta.
In recent years, representatives of the 911 community have called for the FCC to review rules regarding the ability for NSI phones to call 911. When the NSI rules were created in 1996, 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.
But the NSI functionality increasingly is being used to call public-safety answering points (PSAPs) with thousands of non-emergency calls—some relatively innocent, many blatantly deceitful—that absorb considerable time and resources within 911 centers. At the same time, mobile devices have become almost ubiquitous, so the need for NSI phones to call 911 has decreased dramatically.
“So, the technology and times have changed, but our rules stay the same. And, in the interim, this has become a source of harassment,” Rosenworcel said during a question-and-answer session at the APCO event. “People now use these non-service-initialized phones to waste the time, energy and expertise of our 911 call centers.
“When I look at all of that, I think it’s time for us to get rid of this policy.”
Rosenworcel noted that the NSI issue is the focus of an ongoing proceeding at the FCC, which also wants to ensure that reasonable alternatives are provided to those that still rely on NSI devices.
“I think the challenge is just figuring out precisely how to get rid of it, so that we don’t leave anyone who might be relying on a non-service-initialized phone stuck. But it’s very clear to me that it’s time for that policy to go—it’s not 1996 anymore.”