- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004


Emergency call centers must be able to track 911 phone calls made over the Internet, the head of the Federal Communications Commission said yesterday.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the commission would deal with the issue as it develops rules for new technology that converts phone calls to data and sends them across high-speed Internet connections. The system bypasses at least part of the conventional telephone network.

“The commitment of the FCC remains deep and unwavering,” Mr. Powell told a gathering of administrators of emergency call centers. “We need to address the interest of public safety in the new systems.”

The FCC announced this month that it would develop rules for what is known as Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP. While Mr. Powell and the other two Republican members of the five-member commission say they want as little economic regulation as possible, the chairman said the FCC would make sure public safety is protected, either by the industry as it develops the new technology or by the FCC.

VOIP providers said they already were working to meet the needs of call-center administrators.

“The FCC should watch and make sure the things we are doing voluntarily actually happen,” said Tom Evslin, chairman of ITXC Corp., part of a new lobbying group opposing regulation of Internet phone services. “We do not believe it’s necessary for the FCC to regulate in this area. I believe without regulation we will be effective, and the result will be much better emergency services.”

Mr. Powell said the FCC is acting before Internet phone calls become widespread because of problems inherent in trying to modify wireless networks to handle 911 calls. Emergency call centers are installing technology to pinpoint the location of cell phone calls, known as Enhanced 911.

But the National Emergency Number Association, which represents call-center administrators, said half the nation’s centers will not be able to track cell calls by next year’s deadline for wireless companies to outfit their phones with locator technology. The group said state and local governments would have to more than double their annual spending to $1.7 billion to meet the deadline.

Mr. Powell said part of the problem is that the growth of cell phones — the industry now counts 155 million subscribers — occurred before the technology was put in place to pinpoint emergency calls.

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