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.

  • slade52

    Perhaps the caller could y’know, *tell* the responder where they are?

    • Nathan

      These sorts of things are more for hang ups or when calls are otherwise disconnected and the 911 dispatcher can’t reach the caller upon callback. Landlines provide exact information to dispatchers and cellphones really are of no help if the information is within 1000 feet.

      • slade52

        A good point sir

      • D R

        SOME landlines provide exact information. If you are in an office building as part of a large company, they generally have an internal phone system which 911 doesn’t have an map for to indicate where you are [as in, you take your phone with you when you move to a new cubicle/office and plug in and your phone works with the same number. 911 will have NO clue where you are in that office building].

    • Andrew

      That isn’t always possible.

    • josephsinger

      And I suppose you would never think that someone who managed to call 911 was unable to *tell* the 911 center.

  • Uncontested

    Typical corporate behavior, the fact that the Government even needs to demand these things is pathetic. But of course corporations have devolved to such a base thing that the only phrase they understand is: In the name of profit! Screw the people who we provide our service/product too!

  • Grunt_at_the_Point

    Why the squawking by the telecoms? They will just pass the cost down to the subscriber.

  • tornacious

    One step closer to Big Brother…

    • josephsinger

      Next time you are in distress and unable to talk to the 911 center you will sing a different tune. Better stock up on more aluminum foil.