AT&T and Verizon fight plan to make 911 callers easier to find

Photo: Flickr/BenSpark

Photo: Flickr/BenSpark

Each second wasted during a 911 call could be the difference between life and death, making precise location data crucial to the whole lifesaving process, but according to the top U.S. cellphone carriers, getting that exact location to responders is just a little too expensive on 911 calls from a smartphone.

AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are fighting back on an FCC proposal that aims to save lives by making it easier to locate 911 callers. The government proposal calls on carriers to upgrade their networks so that tracking callers indoor is easier, but AT&T says the project would be a waste of scarce resources.

FCC rules last updated in 2012 mandate that carrier provide a 911 callers latitude and longitude within 164 to 984 feet, but that only pertains to calls made outdoors. Indoor calls pose unique obstacles for carriers, and even though GPS tracking has improved a lot recently, getting a proper reading indoors can still be difficult.

Rather than sending paramedics to the wrong floor, the FCC wants 67% of indoor calls to be accurate within 164 feet on the horizontal location, and within 10 feet on the vertical location, in the next few years. By 2019 they want that location data to be accurate on 80% of cases.

Activists claim the carriers are trying to thwart the proposal because they just want to fork over the cash it would take to make the improvements, but AT&T and Verizon insist the tech needed to provide data that accurate doesn’t exist yet.

AT&T has said the FCC’s proposed timeline in unrealistic, and that forcing providers to improve their systems will “waste scarce resources (i.e., time, talent, and money).” Besides, they’re already starting to let user text 911. As long your emergency doesn’t involve plunging your hand into a garbage disposal, AT&T and Verizon will get the paramedics to your house, eventually.

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Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Senior News Editor and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Twitter: @bst3r.

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