E911 Still Struggling After 10 Years

A Consumer Reports survey finds that only 84 percent of wireless users and 88 percent of VOIP users get through to 911 on their first try.

Theres a 16 percent chance your wireless 911 call wont go through. And if it does go through, theres one chance in eight that the 911 center will know where you are.

It gets worse. According to a study released Dec. 4 by Consumer Reports, a magazine published by Consumers Union, your chances are nearly as bad if youre using a VOIP (voice over IP) phone.

According to Consumer Reports Editor at Large Greg Daugherty, who reported the results, this is about the same level of success the organization found the last time it conducted this survey—back in 2002. Its been 10 years since the Federal Communications Commission first mandated E911 (Enhanced 911).

Consumerreports.org subscribers took the survey, which was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, according to Daugherty. "We cant say its a nationally representative sample," Daugherty told eWEEK, adding, however, that its an accurate representation of his readers. The survey, he said, asked about 911 service in the year preceding the survey date of September 2006.

"I would say that the system still has a ways to go," Daugherty said. He noted that with its current level of service, its best not to give up your land line completely. "If you do call 911 on a cell phone, its good to have some idea where you are," Daugherty pointed out. "If youre calling from the highway, give some location information. Dont depend on them knowing where you are."

In its survey, the magazine found that 95 percent of land-line users got through to 911 on their first try. VOIP users made it through 88 percent of the time, and wireless phone users 84 percent. "Neither wireless nor VOIP can replace land lines for reliability," the magazine reported in discussing the survey.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...