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FCC Approves Carrier Plans for E911 Services

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has conditionally approved, with certain modifications, the compliance plans of five nationwide carriers -- Nextel, Sprint, Verizon and the GSM portions of AT&T Wireless and Cingular's networks -- for the timely deployment of wireless enhanced 911 (E911) services.

It also said that the FCC Enforcement Bureau would be charged with enforcing wireless phone company deployment schedules to phase in these E911 capabilities and taking enforcement action against non-compliant companies.

The FCC's rules, adopted in 1996, were divided into two phases. Phase I rules require carriers to provide public safety answering points (PSAP) with the telephone number of the originator of a 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station receiving a 911 call. Phase II rules require wireless carriers to begin providing more precise automatic location identification (ALI) to complete the transition by Dec. 31, 2005.

The FCC's wireless E911 rules seek to improve the effectiveness and reliability of 911 services by providing emergency services personnel with location information that will allow them to dispatch assistance to wireless 911 callers much more quickly. Most 911 calls from wireline phones today automatically provide the 911 call centers, or PSAPs, with the address or location of the telephone from which the call is placed.

By contrast, PSAPs do not today receive that same information on 911 calls from wireless phones. Obtaining accurate location information for wireless calls is a much more difficult task given the highly mobile nature of wireless phones.

Each carrier's precise method of achieving E911 capability varies depending on whether they are employing a handset or network-based system for their ALI capability.

Specifically, the Commission took the following actions, approving plans to implement E911 Phase II for the six nationwide wireless carriers, which together serve more than 75 percent of the subscribers in the country.

*With respect to three companies (Nextel, Sprint, and Verizon) that had met FCC requirements to provide a clear, detailed and enforceable plan to phase-in its ALI capabilities, the Commission agreed to take into account the companies' showings about equipment availability, and allow them to implement Phase II E911 according to a modified schedule for some of the initial 2001 and 2002 deployment milestones. It said it would strictly adhere to enforcement of these modified plans for meeting these alternative intermediate milestones and for completing E911 deployment by 2005.

*For two other companies, (AT&T and Cingular) that submitted E911 compliance plans for the GSM portion of their wireless networks, the Commission provided similar relief, also conditioned on strict FCC enforcement of their new schedules.

The Commission noted that while AT&T and Cingular had submitted compliance plans for the TDMA portion of their networks, the timing of those submissions did not permit Commission consideration. Accordingly, discussions have been initiated between these carriers and FCC Enforcement Bureau staff concerning possible consent decrees with the Commission to resolve this compliance issue.

To track carrier compliance with the revised schedules, the FCC imposed specific reporting requirements on the carriers regarding the implementation of both Phase I and Phase II of E911. Carrier Quarterly Progress Reports will be filed starting next year on Feb. 1, May 1, Aug. 1 and Nov. 1.

The FCC will conduct an ongoing inquiry on E911 technical issues, including evaluation of reports and submissions by technology vendors, network equipment and handset manufacturers and carriers concerning technology standards issues, development of hardware and software, and supply conditions.