FCC aims to pinpoint 911 calls

The Federal Communications Commission wants to help police, fire fighters and ambulances pinpoint people’s location whenever they dial 911.

At its monthly meeting later this month, the commission is scheduled to vote on whether or not to issue new rules to make it easier to locate people who dial 911 from a cellphone indoors.

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The new rules will set “clear targets and deadlines” for making sure that responders can locate indoor 911 calls from people’s cellphones, Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post on Thursday. 

The vote comes nearly a year after the agency first proposed rules to better track people’s locations when they dial 911.

While responders can often determine where a caller is when they are dialing from a landline phone or from a cellphone outdoors, it can be difficult to pinpoint their location when they are inside, especially when the call is being made from a building with multiple floors. Unlike other situations, there are no standards when people dial 911 from a wireless phone indoors.

To close that gap, the nation’s four biggest wireless service companies recently submitted a roadmap for increasing location accuracy, which Wheeler called “a novel approach.”

“The roadmap proposal is a big step forward, but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders,” he wrote in his blog post on Thursday.

The new rules up for a vote before the commission would set new requirements on those wireless companies, with the goal of ensuring that all 911 calls can be easily located, whether they occur indoors or out.

The wireless industry seemed supportive of the move on Thursday.

In a statement, CTIA-The Wireless Association’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Scott Bergmann, said that the sector “remains steadfast in its commitment to improve wireless 911 location accuracy for both outdoors and indoors.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with the commission to deliver on the benefits of the roadmap,” he added.

At its January meeting, the five FCC commissioners will also hear a presentation on the new consumer help center, launched just this month. The new online center should make it easier for people to file and track complaints they have with their TV, Internet, phone or radio company.

The FCC is scheduled to meet on Jan. 29.