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FCC TO FORCE WIRELESS PROVIDERS TO OFFER ENHANCED 911 SERVICES

WASHINGTON-With the number of people using mobile telephones increasing each year, federal regulators want to improve 911 emergency service for calls made over the airwaves, and could force carriers that fail to meet future government standards to put warning labels on handsets indicating their limited capability.

“The commission has no greater responsibility to protect life and health,” said Commissioner Susan Ness at a Federal Communications Commission’s meeting last month.

Today, cellular phones are becoming a popular public-safety tool, accounting for a half million 911 calls every month. That figure is expected to skyrocket in coming years as cellular, personal communications services, specialized mobile radio and mobile satellite phones make their way to the mass market.

`The commission has no greater responsibility to

protect life and health.”

The problem is that public-safety dispatchers receiving wireless 911 calls cannot automatically identify or pinpoint the locatation of the calling party, which is an essential feature in emergencies when individuals may be panic stricken or physically unable to talk.

Enhanced 911 systems, which automatically identify the caller’s telephone number and location, are integrated into traditional landline telephone networks throughout the country.

The FCC said it intends to mandate that commercial wireless operators make E911 available to customers in the future, and is soliciting comment as to how that can be accomplished.

The agency proposed that mobile radio customers not have to dial extra digits to get E911 service nor meet user validation requirements before reaching an emergency dispatcher.

In addition, the FCC would require that wireless 911 calls get priority attention in telecommunications networks. Wireless operators would have to cooperate fully with emergency dispatchers in aiding 911 callers, as well.

The FCC initiative is largely based on an “Emergency Access Position Paper,” by the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, the National Association of State Nine-One-One Administrators and the Personal Communications Industry Association.

The Telecommunications Industry Association, a manufacturer-based trade group that develops wireless system standards, also has supplied federal regulators with wireless 911 data.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents wireless carriers serving nearly 20 million subscribers, has not pursued wireless E911 as aggressively as it has other issues. Cellular customers represent the single biggest segment of wireless users in the country.

In the past, CTIA President Thomas Wheeler has referred to wireless E911 as a local issue that does not lend itself to a uniform solution for communities around the nation.

“It’s not just a technology issue,” maintains Wheeler, adding the association does not intend to throw up roadblocks to progress.

CTIA is working along side other industry groups to identify key features needed for E911 service over wireless systems, and said it welcomed the FCC’s rulemaking proceeding.

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