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E911 Providers Keep a Watchful Eye on FCC Formation, Policy


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June 12, 2009

E911 Providers Keep a Watchful Eye on FCC Formation, Policy

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

To protect U.S. residents and workers, the federal agency that regulates telecommunications – a bi-partisan group that’s still forming – must focus on overhauling the nation’s public safety infrastructure, according to officials involved in the so-called “enhanced 911,” or “E911” industry.

E911 uses location-based technology to determine the exact whereabouts of people trying to reach emergency personnel, often saving critical response time.
Now, as new members of the Federal Communications Commission are appointed under President Barack Obama’s administration, E911 officials are calling for the “new” FCC (News - Alert) to continue coordinating a nationwide communications system for emergency services.
According to Karina Yandell, manager of corporate development at an Everett, Wash.-based E911 solutions provider, 16 states now have legislation in place that makes the owners of telephone systems – whether those systems are traditional or IP-based – responsible for emergency services.
“It is important for direction to be given from the FCC so that a ‘best practices’ is in place nationwide,” said Yandell, who works for 911 ETC. “We’d like to see the FCC issue a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on the feasibility of requiring MLTS operators to provide sufficient caller location information. The Notice of Inquiry should seek comment on the National Emergency Number Association’s Technical Requirements Document on Model Legislation E911 for Multi-Line Telephone Systems.”
The call to action is timely, as the White House last week said it’s nominating Republican Robert McDowell (News - Alert) for another term.
Questions still remain about who will fill the other Republican seats on the FCC, and whether the Senate will back Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski (News - Alert)  (the Senate is considering him and some GOP nominees now). FCC members could include Mignon Clyburn, Genachowski, McDowell, and former NTIA acting head Meredith Attwell Baker (a Republican). The FCC panel is currently without a permanent chairman. Michael Copps (News - Alert), a Democrat, is serving in an acting capacity. Obama is expected to nominate another Democrat soon.
These days, most of the news on FCC policy involves the widely anticipated conversion from analog broadcast services to digital television – a change that’s now underway, though one recent study showed that more than 2 million Americans remain unready for it.
For Yandell and others involved in E911, the makeup and approach of the new FCC to enhanced emergency services technology is critical, and history shows that they’re right.
With the installation of Chairman Kevin Martin as FCC head, citing public safety concerns, the agency began requiring VoIP service providers, for example, to address 911 services. Specifically, VoIP over broadband providers were required to disclose 911 limitations to customers. Right now, the professional association cited by Yandell – NENA – is gathering E911 experts and others to look at how the nation’s emergency network infrastructure – which has struggled at times to handle VoIP calls – will use technology to ensure that IP-based calls are placed and answered by traditional emergency services providers.

“Under the direction of Kevin Martin the FCC has taken an active role in implementing 911 regulations for wireless, VoIP, and mobile satellite services,” Yandell said. “It will be vitally important for Genachowski to continue to keep regulations a priority to ensure that all facets are considered and successfully coordinated. The required steps towards implementing a Next Generation 911 system are known – regulations from the FCC are a key driving force behind those steps actually being taken in a timely manner.”

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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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