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FCC Homes in on E911 Location Data at July Meeting

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/Public Safety/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON July 13, 2011 - The Federal Communications Commission approved a Notice of Proposed Rule Making that would aim to improve the ability of first responders to locate mobile and Voice over IP (VoIP) callers who contact 911 during its July meeting on Tuesday.

The Commission passed by a unanimous vote a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on improving the accuracy of location information for wireless and Voice over IP (VoIP) services. The NPRM seeks to establish a standard for VoIP location information.

“Location accuracy has become increasingly better as handsets integrate GPS but our job is far from being done,” said Commissioner Michael Copps. “As more consumers cut the cord, cell phones are increasingly becoming the primary phones for many consumers. We need to see the improvement of in building location accuracy. “

Currently wireless phones provide E911 location information by using a GPS chip within a handset or by triangulating the caller’s wireless signal in relation to nearby cell sites in the carrier’s network.

Traditional phone services are linked to a specific location while VoIP services are routed through any type of internet connection this makes determining the location of VoIP calls difficult.

When consumers call 911 they are connected to their local Public Safety Answering Point, this location information is often not transmitted properly when using VoIP services. To improve public safety the Commission has mandated that all residential VoIP subscribers must provide an address.

The NPRM asks providers if there is any method which can be deployed to automatically provide location information for VoIP calls rather than having to rely on subscribers to provide the data.

The Commission is also seeking input on how broadband location technologies can be leveraged for use to support E911.

“The item explains that, as the use of location based services on smart phones becomes more prevalent, Americans are beginning to expect that their service providers know their current location whenever they are using that device,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “It is therefore reasonable for them to also expect that, when they make a 9-1-1 call, their current location information should be provided to public safety agencies, whether they make the call using a traditional commercial wireless services or whether they are using VoIP services.”

In a unanimous vote, the Commission passed a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on the impact of the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) that was passed in January. The LCRA repealed restrictions on the amount of spectrum that can be allocated for use by low power FM stations imposed by Congress in 2000.

“LPFM will provide the increased spectral efficiency and allow for new entrants in the media space which will be able to provide crucial local information,” said Chairman Julius Genachowski. “Radio continues to be a very valuable service in communications and media. Broadcast over the air radio listening has actually been increasing.”

In an effort to protect consumers, the Commission also unanimously passed a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to prevent the addition of “mystery fees” or “cramming” onto telephone bills. The commission found that an estimated 15 to 20 million American households have “mystery fees” added to their monthly phone bills.

The Commission recently approved a settlement with Verizon Wireless where the company charged consumers over $50 million in “mystery fees”. Verizon was forced to refund its customers and pay a $25 million fine to the US Treasury.

The issue is also currently being investigated by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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