WASHINGTON-Wireless carriers say a petition calling for unrestricted access to 911 telephone service would perpetuate fraud and impair public safety responsiveness, but concede some cellular systems block access to emergency dispatchers.
The Personal Communications Industry Association and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association have urged the Federal Communications Commission to reject rule changes requested by the Ad Hoc Alliance for Public Access to 911.
The FCC is reviewing public comments on the alliance’s filing within the scope of a broader rulemaking that contemplates requiring wireless telephone companies to have E911 capability-which enables emergency dispatch operators to automatically retrieve a caller’s phone number and location-within five years of a final order.
Cellular subscribers make at least a half million 911 calls each month.
The FCC was expected to adopt E911 wireless guidelines as early as next month, but the two government shutdowns forced federal regulators to reschedule the vote. Public safety organizations aggressively have pushed for wireless E911, while cellular carriers have proceeded more cautiously in light of technical and economic questions they say haven’t been answered.
The alliance, comprised of public safety, nonprofit, disability and consumer groups, asserts 911 service can be denied to subscribers who make emergency calls outside their home service areas.
Emergency calls cannot get through if subscribers are out of range of their cellular systems and if operators of those systems do not scan the competing wireless network in that market for a stronger signal, according to the alliance.
Wireless telephone providers disagree, saying the petition is misguided and ignores the law and technology.
The wireless industry also points out the petition is not necessarily in sync with a major report on wireless 911 and enhanced 911 service jointly issued in November 1994 by PCIA, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International Inc., the National Emergency Number Association and the National Association of State Nine One One Administrators.
“Rather than adopting the Ad Hoc Alliance’s mandatory unrestricted access proposal, the commission should adhere to its original proposal that service providers be required to offer 911 access only to service-initialized handsets in a home service area or a subscribed-to roamed service area,” said PCIA.
CTIA acknowledged anti-fraud software can prevent roamers from making a 911 call, but said such cases are limited and do not constitute a problem.
“This proposal reflects a naive misunderstanding of how CMRS (commercial mobile radio service) networks dynamically control power levels and hand-off calls to provide reliable communications, and if adopted would lead to more dropped calls and less reliable emergency communications,” said CTIA.
The FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration have set up a Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee-headed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Philip Verveer-to develop recommendations on technical, operational and spectral requirements of local, state and federal public safety agencies through 2010.