- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

The Federal Communications Commission should increase oversight of wireless 911 technology by forming a new office within the proposed Office of Homeland Security, according to an independent inquiry released yesterday.
The new report, by former FCC chief of engineering and technology Dale Hatfield, concludes that greater oversight could speed development of the technology to locate people who make emergency phone calls from wireless phones. The FCC has ordered phone companies to make the location technology available by 2005.
The FCC said in 1996 the nation's carriers and 911 centers must be able to locate emergency calls from wireless phones because of the growing number of those devices. Nearly 140 million U.S. consumers tote cell phones, and, in some counties, nearly half of all 911 calls come from wireless phones. But only an estimated 1 percent to 3 percent of counties have advanced services to locate wireless emergency calls.
Wireless companies, local exchange carriers and 911 answering centers have made some progress toward meeting FCC requirements for locating people. Wireless carriers and handset manufacturers must make phones available that can be located, and local exchange carriers and 911 centers must upgrade equipment to receive location information.
Mr. Hatfield wrote in his 54-page report that the FCC should establish a National 911 Program Office within the proposed Department of Homeland Security to coordinate with local and state public-safety personnel and other agencies. He also recommended the commission maintain or increase its oversight of the rollout of wireless E911 services over the next several years because of the importance of E911 to safety.
Perhaps most troubling, Mr. Hatfield said, some 911 answering centers may not have enough people or funding to complete work to upgrade facilities to locate callers.
"Without adequate funding the rollout of wireless E911 will be delayed, perhaps significantly," Mr. Hatfield wrote.
The 911 centers are a "potential detriment to the rapid and efficient rollout of wireless E911 services," he wrote.
Tim Berry, Indiana state treasurer and chairman of the state's Wireless E911 Advisory Board, disputed that the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 911 call centers across the nation are holding up location-technology services.
"Certainly the technical challenges are great," he said. "But I have not seen with phase one of the project that the [911 call centers] have been a detriment to E911."
However, he agreed that some are suffering from a lack of money.
But emergency centers aren't the only ones with problems. Wireless companies have their own difficulties.
AT&T; Wireless said in a filing to the FCC last week it will switch technologies to enable caller location. The company said a technology it selected has not met the FCC's ultimate goal of pinpointing callers within 50 to 150 meters. AT&T; Wireless also must pay a $2 million fine because it missed an October 2001 deadline to begin installing certain E911 caller-location equipment, the FCC said.
Despite hurdles, wireless-industry officials expect to be ready to locate wireless emergency callers in 2005.
"We are committed to rolling out" location technologies, said Michael Altschul, senior vice president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a trade industry group.
Local exchange carriers which must route calls from wireless phones to 911 centers and the 911 centers must complete their work before phones can be pinpointed, Mr. Altschul said.
All groups involved must work together to overcome the technical and operational issues, said Brian Fontes, a lobbyist for Cingular Wireless.
"It's going to take a lot of cooperation to ensure that E911 is rolled out effectively and properly," he said.

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