December 17, 2014 - 6:01 pm
By Admiral David Simpson | Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Earlier this year, the Commission proposed rules to help first responders better locate indoor wireless 911 callers. The reason was clear: the vast majority of 911 calls are from mobile phones, and we are not where we need to be on location accuracy for wireless 911 calls. This puts American lives at risk and requires swift action from the FCC, from wireless carriers, and from public safety officials. Next Wednesday marks a deadline for public comments on the latest proposal we have received in this proceeding. To get this right, it is important that the Commission hear from stakeholders on many key questions.

Make no mistake, locating wireless 911 callers indoors is not easy. The technologies used to locate outdoor callers simply don’t work as well indoors. Additionally, today’s 911 location technologies can’t tell a 911 call center what floor a call is coming from.  Imagine the challenge this creates for an EMS technician when responding to a medical emergency in a 50-story skyscraper! 

First responders must be able to locate 911 callers – indoors or outdoors – quickly and accurately.  Even a few minutes of delay can cost lives. We must do better to close the gaps in our 911 safety net. And there’s good reason to think we will.

The record in this proceeding indicates that significant advances in technology have indeed taken place, including technologies that have the potential to locate indoor calls by address, floor, and apartment or room number.  Over the past few months, my staff and I have seen first-hand demonstrations of wireless phone coordinate as well as dispatchable location technologies. At this stage, addressing the “indoor location gap” no longer appears to be a technology problem, but is instead an implementation challenge that can be met through the commitment of wireless providers to develop and deploy improved location capabilities at scale within an appropriate timeframe.

Last month, the four largest wireless carriers and two national public safety organizations, NENA and APCO, took an important step by submitting their own "Roadmap" proposal outlining a commitment to improve indoor location accuracy.  The commitments made in the Roadmap reflect hard work by all the parties to improve public safety outcomes and establish a timeline for implementation.  However, some in the public safety community have criticized the Roadmap. They have concerns regarding the pace of achievement, measures of effectiveness, and accountability for results.  These parties have urged the Commission to reject the Roadmap and adopt its original proposal. 

The Commission’s Public Safety Bureau sought public comment on the Roadmap’s elements so that we might better evaluate their impact on the indoor location challenge, and ultimately present the Commissioners with the best possible solution to this problem.

With the final round of reply comments coming next Wednesday, we welcome the views of public safety organizations, industry, and consumer groups in response to questions in the Public Notice.  As we consider the reply comments in the context of the extensive record already assembled, we will want to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How might the recent APCO/NENA/Carrier Roadmap best help close the 911 wireless location accuracy capability gap?
  • Given commitments made to implement the Roadmap, what specific elements of the previous FCC proposal remain relevant and what  elements are not sufficiently  covered in the Roadmap?
  • How might the Commission use the full record to close the wireless 911 indoor location capability gap effectively, affordably, expeditiously in a measureable and accountable manner?
  • How do we ensure that legitimate privacy and security concerns are appropriately addressed?

The stakeholder input we receive on these and other issues raised in this proceeding will be very helpful as we develop recommended final rules for consideration by the Chairman and Commissioners. As Chairman Wheeler has made clear, closing the gap in wireless indoor location accuracy is one of the highest-priority issues for the Commission.   With the public’s help, we will achieve a good result that strengthens the 911 safety net for all Americans.