It is estimated that about 70 percent of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones, and that percentage is growing. The prompt delivery of wireless 911 calls to public safety organizations benefits the public by promoting safety of life and property. In an effort to improve public safety, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules aimed at improving the reliability of wireless 911 services and the accuracy of the location information transmitted with a wireless 911 call. Such improvements enable emergency response personnel to ensure that Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) receive meaningful, accurate location information from wireless 911 callers in order to dispatch local emergency responders to the correct location and to provide assistance to 911 callers more quickly.
Q: What are the FCC’s Wireless 911 rules and how do they apply?
The FCC’s wireless 911 rules apply to all wireless licensees, broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) licensees and certain Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) licensees. Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) providers, however, are currently excluded.
The FCC’s basic 911 rules require wireless service providers to transmit all 911 calls to a PSAP, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider’s service or not.
Phase I Enhaced 911 (E911) rules require wireless service providers to provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.
Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending upon the type of location technology used.
Q: What are the requirements of wireless service providers?
The FCC requires wireless carriers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs. Wireless carriers are required to comply with the FCC’s location accuracy rules at either a county-based or PSAP-based geographic level. The standards apply to outdoor measurements only, as indoor use poses unique obstacles.
Wireless service providers are also required to file with the FCC a list of counties, or portions of counties, that they seek to exclude from the location accuracy requirements. The FCC may permit wireless carriers to exclude areas, only where wireless carriers determine that providing location accuracy is limited, or technologically impossible, because of either heavy forestation or the inability to triangulate a caller’s location. Wireless carriers must report any changes to their exclusion lists within thirty days of such changes.
Q: Are there any suggested tips for consumers making wireless 911 calls?
- Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away and provide them with your wireless phone number so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.
- Learn and use the designated number in your state for highway accidents or other non-life-threatening incidents to help public safety personnel allocate emergency resources.
- Refrain from programming your phone to automatically dial 911 with one button, and if your wireless phone came pre-programmed with the auto-dial 911 feature already turned on, turn this feature off. Unintentional wireless 911 calls, which often occur when auto-dial keys are inadvertently pressed, cause problems for emergency call centers.
- If you replace your handset, you should always ask about the new handset's E911 capabilities. Some providers may offer incentives to encourage customers without location-capable phones to obtain new location-capable phones.
- Consider creating a contact in your wireless phone’s memory with the name “ICE” (in Case of Emergency), which lists the phone numbers of people you want to have notified in an emergency.
For any 911 wireless service issue, you should first try to resolve the issue directly with your service provider. If you cannot resolve it directly, or if you think your wireless service provider is not complying with the FCC’s wireless 911 requirements, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint.
How to File a Complaint with the FCC
You must include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible. To file a complaint, please visit www.fcc.gov/complaints. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) for TTY; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554