Wheres the Emergency?

I find it really hard to believe that it's been impossible to deploy wireless Enhanced 911 systems yet.

I find it really hard to believe that its been impossible to deploy wireless Enhanced 911 systems yet.

Wireless operators, vendors, public safety groups and the Federal Communications Commission have been working for ages — five years on the second phase alone, which was supposed to have made headway by Oct. 1 — and they have little to show for it.

More than 25 percent of the calls made to 911 come from cellular phones, yet the public service groups that answer those calls cant identify where the caller is, and in most cases, dont even know the number of the cell phone. Even though third parties have devised services that could help operators earn money from the investments they must make in their networks to locate callers, progress has been excruciatingly slow. Its not easy to build and implement location technologies, but Im certain the brains are out there who can do it.

But clearly its not a priority. The operators say the gear isnt ready; the vendors say theyre ready to roll as soon as the operators place their orders. Im not sure which is to blame, but Im convinced that the parties involved are capable of successfully rolling out services by now.

The FCC doesnt help matters by pushing back deadlines. Its threats of per-day fines for operators that cant meet certain milestones are useless because the commission is easy enough to convince otherwise.

Most recently, operators were supposed to meet an Oct. 1 deadline proving their progress. The FCC retained the ultimate compliance date of Dec. 31, 2005, but pushed back certain milestones, including the Oct. 1 mark for beginning to sell handsets equipped with location technology. The FCC has repeatedly postponed compliance deadlines, setting a bad precedent. "I fear that because of this decision, consumers will not have E911 services as quickly as they deserve. And in the coming months and years, we will see more waiver requests, more finger-pointing and unacceptably slow progress," wrote FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in a statement where he dissented, in part, with the agencys decisions.

Even though its not certain that E911 technologies could have helped victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the incident might pressure the FCC to be strict with the implementation plans. Unless the FCC holds operators to the time line, the deadline for full deployment will surely come and go, and come and go again.