- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday grudgingly gave five companies more time to begin selling wireless phones with a new technology to locate callers.

Carriers were supposed to begin selling modified cell phones Oct. 1, and 25 percent of all phones sold by Dec. 31 were expected to have the technology in them to help 911 operators locate them. But more than 70 wireless carriers asked the FCC to push back its deadlines because equipment that locates people who make emergency calls to 911 on wireless phones is not ready.

"I am disappointed and unsatisfied with the progress we have made, thus far. … It goes without saying that there is a new sense of urgency around using mobile phones as important safety devices," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.

New deadlines were issued for the nation's largest carriers Nextel Communications Inc., Verizon Wireless Inc., Sprint PCS, AT&T Wireless Services Inc. and Cingular Wireless. VoiceStream Wireless Corp. was given a waiver last year, and the FCC said it will deal with requests for waivers filed by numerous small regional carriers next month.

Nextel won the longest reprieve. The Reston company that has 8.2 million U.S. wireless subscribers has another year to meet the new deadline and must begin selling the new wireless phones by Oct. 1, 2002.

Company officials said they need the extra time because the technology they plan to use to locate callers, the Global Positioning System that relies on satellites, still is being developed. Other systems will locate callers through triangulation, or measuring a caller's proximity to three cell towers.

"There are certain technologies that just take time to develop. [The FCC] must have believed that the earnestness and the intention was there," Nextel spokeswoman Audrey Schaefer said.

Public-safety officials were unhappy yesterday that 911 calls from wireless phones will take longer to pinpoint. The growth in the number of cellular users prompted the push for location technology. In 1995, 34 million cell phone users made 20 million emergency calls. There are more than 120 million cell phone users now, and they make 50 million emergency 911 calls .

"I'm disappointed the commission found it necessary to grant waivers. We're all mobile today," said Thera Bradshaw, president-elect of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, based in South Daytona, Fla.

Verizon, the largest U.S. mobile phone company with 28.7 million subscribers, was given until Dec. 31 to begin selling the new phones. The company had said in an FCC filing it would be able to sell the new phones by the end of the year.

The FCC did not alter the Oct. 1 deadline for Sprint, which has 12.8 million subscribers and sold its first wireless phone on Monday with the software to let 911 operators locate a caller. Both Verizon and Sprint have until July 31 to ensure that 25 percent of all new phones sold have location technology installed.

That is a seven-month extension of the deadline.

No carriers asked for an extension of the FCC's deadline that require 95 percent of all new wireless phones sold by the end of 2005 to have the location technology installed.

"Significantly, none of the waiver requests we act on today sought modifications of our full deployment deadlines … therefore these waivers only request modifications of interim steps on the way to compliance," Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said.

The FCC also approved requests from AT&T and Cingular, which asked that deadlines be changed for part of their hybrid networks. The agency also said it is in discussions with both companies on possible enforcement actions. Both failed to submit plans outlining when other parts of their networks would be ready in time for the FCC to examine them.

Carriers have told the FCC they are unable to meet the deadline because manufacturers have not produced updated phones as quickly as they expected.

"It is an equipment issue," said Michael R. Bennet, a telecommunications lawyer in the District whose firm represents more than a dozen small, regional cellular phone companies.

The new technology is expected to increase the cost of phones.

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