This week, I’ve been at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas getting a sneak peak at the very latest gadgets and innovations. Enabling new technologies that delight consumers and grow our economy is one of the FCC’s top priorities. While the hottest tech trends may garner the headlines, an equally important part of the FCC’s mission is basic consumer protections. The Commission’s first open meeting of 2015 will be focused on two core responsibilities: promoting public safety and serving as an effective, accessible advocate for consumers.

Since I arrived at the Commission, one of our top public safety priorities has been improving the effectiveness of 911.  A particular area of attention has been to improve location accuracy for indoor wireless 911 calls.

When the FCC adopted its original wireless 911 rules, most wireless usage occurred outdoors. But times have changed, and so has technology. The vast majority of 911 calls now come from wireless phones, increasingly from indoors.

That is why the Commission put forth proposed new location accuracy rules last year.

The record in the proceeding tells us that there have been significant advances in technology, including technologies that have the potential to locate indoor callers by address, floor, and apartment or room number. 

The Commission has studied this problem in depth, and with public safety stakeholders, has developed a mature understanding of the range of credible options.

The four largest wireless carriers and two national public safety organizations recently submitted their own proposed “roadmap,” a novel approach that has the potential to close the readiness gap through use of known locations of indoor wireless nodes.  This approach will ultimately result in capabilities that will evolve with the continued change anticipated in the number of ways consumers might call for help in the future.

The roadmap proposal is a big step forward, but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders.  

We have listened and learned from all sides in this debate.  Today, I am circulating an order to my fellow Commissioners that takes advantage of the good work done by the carriers, APCO, and NENA, while also providing confidence-building measures and backstop thresholds that set clear targets and deadlines for improving indoor location and hold parties accountable for results.      

We want to harness new technologies not only to enhance 911, but also to make the Commission more accessible to the public and more effective as a consumer advocate.

Over the past month, the FCC launched a new online Consumer Help Centerthat replaced the Commission's previous complaint system with a user-friendly portal for filing and monitoring informal consumer complaints. This will enable consumers who have billing disputes with their carrier, received unwanted telemarketing calls, or wish to file a complaint on some other service issue to file their complaint more easily, and track the status of complaints 24/7. 

Over time, the system will enable us to track and provide more refined data on consumer complaint trends to the public as well as FCC staff, which will help better inform our policymaking and enforcement activities.

At our January meeting, the Commissioners will hear a presentation from staff on the new Consumer Help Center. 

The Commission will continue working to unleash the innovative, new consumer products that we see at the Consumer Electronics Show, but we also remain focused on taking advantage of advances in technology to provide better service for consumers and enhance public safety, now and in the future.