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Carriers Failing Miserably at Location Data for Wireless E911 Calls

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 10:45am
Andrew Berg

If you make a 911 call from your cell phone in the D.C. area don't expect the dispatcher to know your location. 

According to new data obtained from the FCC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the Find Me 911 Coalition, only 10 percent of wireless 911 calls made in Washington D.C. in the first half of 2013 were delivered with accurate location information needed to find callers who are lost, confused, unconscious or otherwise unable to share their location. 

In a statement, Jamie Barnett, former Chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Director of the Find Me 911 Coalition, called the results "an alarming public safety crisis."

"When nine in ten emergency callers in our nation's capital cannot be located on wireless phones, we know that the requirements for location accuracy must be updated immediately," Barnett said. "Thankfully, the FCC has proposed a strong new rule to help find wireless callers in need, both indoors and outdoors, and this should eliminate any doubt about the importance of rapid adoption of that rule."

Other data provided by the FCC offered a breakdown by carrier of wireless 9-1-1 calls in DC for a different period of time, from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013.  That data showed significant variation for accurate "Phase II" information among carriers. For instance, only 2.3 percent of 31,135 wireless calls made to 911 on AT&T's network included accurate latitude-longitude information, also known as "Phase II" information. Of 13,899 wireless calls placed to 911 on Verizon's network during the time period 24.6 percent included Phase II information. 

AT&T could not be reached for comment prior to press time. Verizon declined to comment, saying this was an "industry issue" and inquiries should be addressed to CTIA.  

The FCC recently proposed a new rule to address the issue by requiring wireless carriers to provide accurate location data for indoor calls within two years.  According to the FCC, the proposed rule could save an estimated 10,000 lives a year through faster response times.

But in a June 18 ex-parte filing, CTIA spoke on behalf of its members, saying that there is no known technology that can satisfy the FCC's proposed location requirements on a nationwide basis within the proposed timeframe. 

"The FCC has put forward an outstanding proposed rule that will save more than 10,000 American lives each year," concluded Barnett. "Public safety leaders should continue to stand firm with their members in support of that rule and not be swayed by carrier rhetoric and empty promises of some future solution."

The Find Me 911 Coalition submitted its FOIA request to the FCC on May 15, 2014. The full materials obtained from the FCC through the FOIA request can be found here

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