APCO, NENA,Carriers Announce 911 Accord; Other Public Safety Groups Refuse to Sign On

TR Daily, Friday, November 14, 2014:  The four national wireless carriers, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) early this evening announced a consensus agreement that they said will help improve indoor 911 location accuracy. But four other major public safety groups representing the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services communities refused to sign the accord, saying it did not go far enough.

The consensus parties said the agreement will provide dispatchable locations needed for first responders to most precisely locate wireless 911 callers. “The proposed solution harnesses the availability of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies that are already deployed and expected to expand significantly in the near term,” a news release noted.

The news release said the parties agreed upon a timeline to (1) “[v]erify technologies and vendor performance for indoor and outdoor technologies in a test bed;” (2) “[a]ccelerate the delivery of dispatchable location using indoor technologies with ambitious milestones for demonstration, standards development, and implementation of database and handset capabilities; and (3) “[i]mprove existing location technologies for better outdoor and indoor location fixes.”

“CTIA congratulates AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless and public safety partners on the announcement of this historic agreement,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and chief executive officer of CTIA. “This agreement represents meaningful, significant and achievable goals to provide first responders with the information they need to respond to wireless 9-1-1 calls. The FCC issued our industry a challenge, and we are proud of our ability to deliver a clear road map to critical 9-1-1 enhancements that meet the high standards and requirements of our nation’s leading public safety organizations.”

“This agreement represents a blueprint for the improvement of 9-1-1 location accuracy, both indoors and outdoors,” said NENA President Christy Williams. “NENA looks forward to working with APCO and the carriers over the established timeframes to develop the details of the blueprint that will ultimately better serve the needs of all who dial 9-1-1, indoors or out.”

APCO Executive Director Derek Poarch said, “APCO is very appreciative of the professionalism and dedication of its partners in achieving a consensus solution that we can all be proud of and that, most importantly, will provide meaningful location information to our nation’s dedicated and hardworking public safety communications professionals and first responders as they daily serve the emergency needs of their citizens.”

The parties negotiating the 911 location accuracy accord faced a deadline of today imposed by David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, sources said.

The news release noted that the accord “defines dispatchable location as the civic address of the calling party plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar information that may be needed to adequately identify the location of the calling party.”

“As part of the agreement, the carrier signatories will obtain a location fix using heightened location accuracy technologies for the following percentage of wireless 9-1-1 calls from the date of the agreement based on live call data: i)      40% of all wireless 9-1-1 calls within two years; ii) 50% of all wireless 9-1-1 calls within three years; iii) 75% of all VoLTE wireless 9-1-1 calls within five years; and iv) 80% of all VoLTE wireless 9-1-1 calls within six years.”

But four major public safety groups today criticized the consensus proposal between APCO and NENA and Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Inc., Sprint Corp., and T-Mobile US, Inc. – the same parties that reached an accord on text-to-911 in 2012.

“We are aware that there have been ongoing negotiations among the wireless carriers, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the CTIA-The Wireless Association to develop an alternative to the proposed FCC regulations for 9-1-1 location information. We were not consulted on these negotiations and were not provided any details of the discussions until October 29, 2014,” the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials (NASEMSO) and National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) said in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler submitted before the announcement on the accord.

“Our organizations are disappointed that we were not consulted earlier, because we represent the leadership of the frontline first responders who are called upon to respond to 9-1-1 emergencies every day. Since October 29, we have been actively engaged in discussions with the carriers and other organizations to ensure that any voluntary consensus agreement will provide the most accurate location information during 9-1-1 calls.”

The groups noted that an updated draft of the proposal was circulated late last night, but they argued that it did not make necessary improvements.

“However, even though we support the definition of dispatchable location as defined by the earlier roadmap draft agreement proposed by CTIA and the carriers, we have serious concerns about the details of the actual roadmap. For example, we believe that the carriers should utilize all potential technology options in determining the dispatchable location of a 9-1-1 caller using a wireless device, including technology using both compensated and uncompensated barometric pressure,” today’s letter said. “The proposed roadmap relies on technology solutions for 9-1-1 emergencies that have never been tested in a real-world environment, including the use of in-building Wi-Fi and Bluetooth information and crowdsourcing. We urge the FCC to ensure that the carriers also use technologies that have been tested by the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) in their efforts to meet requirements for providing dispatchable location.”

The groups added that they “have concerns that many of the provisions in the roadmap must be worked out after the agreement has been finalized.” They added that they are “concerned that many of the details of the proposed National Emergency Address Database (NEAD) remain undetermined. The NEAD is key to the proposal to provide dispatchable location by using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth information. Yet the governance and funding of the NEAD is unresolved.

“We believe a better approach is for the FCC to focus on using performance-based metrics for providing dispatchable location to PSAPs,” the groups added. “This approach would be technology-neutral and the specific metrics would be enforced by the FCC. Attached is our proposal for setting these enforceable metrics for the carriers to provide dispatchable location to local PSAPs.”

The letter continued, “Our organizations to date have supported the FCC’s proposed regulations. At the same time, we are not opposed to a voluntary consensus agreement that has achievable benchmarks and is enforceable by the FCC to ensure that the carriers provide improved indoor location results in a reasonable timeframe.  It is critical, however, that benchmarks and goals address verifiable results experienced by PSAPS in the field or through representative test beds. This approach must ensure that the carriers utilize all potential forms of technology to provide this information and not rule out any form of technology in the beginning. We believe that the carriers must bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring accurate indoor location technology across the country.”

The IAFC, IACP, and NSA had pushed for changes in the 911 location accuracy proposal, including to ensure that there was FCC oversight so benchmarks in the agreement were enforceable, according to sources. The groups also wanted technological neutrality, the source said.

Under a proposal from the IACP, IAFC, and NSA, carriers would have to deliver within two years “the dispatchable location … of 911 callers for 30% of all calls, as verified in identified test bed market(s), and certified compliant in other markets. The carriers shall take advantage of any technologies & devices (including technology that uses compensated or uncompensated barometric pressure) to reach this requirement.” The deployment percentages would increase to 50% in three years and 80% in five years and be enforceable by the Commission.

An Oct. 29 draft of the proposal had also drawn complaints from some other public safety officials and advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing and elderly (TRDaily, Nov. 13). They also said it did not go far enough, saying it would allow carriers to avoid mandates, and complained that they were left out of the negotiations.

In February, the FCC proposed to require wireless carriers to locate 911 callers horizontally indoors within 50 meters for 67% of calls within two years of the rules being adopted and for 80% of calls within five years (TRDaily, Feb. 20). For vertical location, carriers would have to locate callers with three meters, or approximately floor-level location, for 67% of calls within three years and for 80% of calls within five years.

The wireless industry has argued that the proposed deployment milestones were too aggressive and not feasible given the state of technology. Industry entities discussed a consensus proposal with APCO and NENA with parties citing the benefits of being able to locate callers at a dispatchable address. However, APCO and NENA have also generally expressed support for the FCC’s proposed milestones.

The draft that was circulated late last night addressed some of the concerns raised by those groups but not others.

For example, it emphasized technological neutrality and it suggested that the FCC incorporate portions of the agreement into the agency’s rules, including those dealing with the deployment of handsets that are capable of helping move location accuracy ahead.

Meanwhile, other parties continued to push the FCC to adopt its proposed rules and said they oppose any agreement to avoid them.

In an ex parte filing yesterday in PS docket 07-114, TruePosition, Inc., a location technology vendor that has been active in lobbying for indoor location accuracy rules, said “that an agreement between the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (‘APCO’) and the wireless carriers—negotiated behind closed doors and without the participation of other stakeholders in 911 location accuracy, such as disability groups, retired persons, and other public safety organizations, and without much input from APCO’s own membership—should not be allowed to supplant the fair and open process through which the strong record for the proposed rules was developed over the course of 2014.”

In another filing, Nathan Lee, president of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, which is named for his wife who was kidnapped and called 911 but was not able to provide her location and was later killed, said that more than 115,000 people have signed a petition supporting the FCC’s proposed rules. “Unfortunately, I understand that there is an active effort to lobby for a delay or weakening of the strong new rules you have proposed, and I am writing to urge you to stay strong,” Mr. Lee said. “My wife lost her life because 9-1-1 couldn’t find her, and more lives will be lost with each passing day until those new rules are in place.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com