FCC Adopts Compromise 911 Location Accuracy Order

The FCC adopted on a 5-0 vote a 911 location accuracy order that is weaker than the draft order first circulated as well as proposals released last year, but Commissioners said the item ensures a path toward providing improved location accuracy, including vertical accuracy.  As TRDaily has reported, under the new order approved at the FCC’s meeting today, wireless carriers will have to provide a location fix using technologies capable of providing dispatchable location or 50-meter horizontal accuracy for 40% of all wireless 911 calls within two years, 50% of all calls within three years, 70% of all calls within five years, and 80% of all calls within six years. Non-nationwide carriers may extend the five- and six-year benchmarks based on when they deploy VoLTE technology throughout their networks.

Both dispatchable and coordinate-based technologies will have to be tested and validated through a test bed that is independently administered.

Eighteen months after the order takes effect, nationwide carriers will have to begin collecting and reporting live 911 call data quarterly from six representative cities. The Commission said the data will help FCC officials determine how well different location technologies are working and validate test bed certification of the solutions.

As for vertical location accuracy, wireless carriers will be required to make uncompensated barometric pressure data available to public safety answering points (PSAPs) within three years. The data will come from handsets capable of delivering such data. Carriers also have three years to develop a vertical location accuracy metric, which they will submit to the FCC for approval.

Carriers will have to deploy dispatchable location or z-axis – vertical – technology   in the 25 most populous cellular market areas (CMAs) within six years, and dispatchable location or z-axis technology in the 50 most populous CMAs within eight years. Non-nationwide carriers that serve these markets will get an additional year to deploy.

Regarding the establishment of a national emergency database, the FCC order requires national carriers to submit for FCC approval a privacy and security plan for the database within 18 months.

Carriers also have 18 months to report their plan for deploying improved indoor location accuracy, including how they expect to meet the three- and six-year milestones. Non-nationwide carriers will get an extra six months to submit their reports. After three years, all carriers will have to report on their progress, particularly emphasizing dispatchable location progress.

All carriers will also be required to provide to requesting PSAPs aggregate 911 call data, which will let the PSAPs assess whether the performance of carriers in their areas is consistent with the performance seen in the six test cities. If the performance in their areas is below mandated thresholds, PSAPs can seek enforcement of the rules after first attempting to resolve the issue with carriers.

Also, the order adopted today does not give carriers authorization to utilize signals from non-U.S. satellite systems, such as GLONASS, the Russian satellite navigation system. If any carriers want to use signals from non-U.S.-licensed satellite systems, the Commission would review such a request. That language addresses concerns that use of GLONASS could compromise U.S. national security and safety.

By contrast, under the draft order as circulated, after three years, 50% of all non-satellite-generated horizontal location fixes would have had to be by dispatchable location or within 50 meters. After six years, 80% of non-satellite-generated horizontal location fixes would have had to be by dispatchable location or within 50 meters, and 80% of vertical fixes would have had to be by dispatchable location or within three meters, according to sources.

Sources have said that FCC officials included the non-satellite-generated fix language in the original draft order as a proxy for separating indoor from outdoor calls, a move supported by some location technology vendors.

Also by contrast, in February 2014, the FCC proposed to require wireless carriers to locate 911 callers horizontally indoors within 50 meters for 67% of calls within two years and for 80% of calls within five years (TRDaily, Feb. 20, 2014). For vertical location, carriers would have had to locate callers within three meters, or approximately floor-level location, for 67% of calls within three years and for 80% of calls within five years.

David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, stressed to reporters after the meeting that the requirements in the order will provide FCC officials and others “a very clear understanding of technologies that are working, technologies that aren’t, and whether or not we are, in fact, addressing the indoor problem.”

A number of the deployment milestones adopted today were generally consistent with proposals advanced by the four national wireless carriers, some of which were offered as a follow up to a road map signed last November by the providers, the National Emergency Number Association, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (TRDaily, Nov. 14, 2014).

Sources have said that Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel successfully pushed to modify the original draft order – in particular by removing the non-satellite-generated language as well as the specific vertical accuracy metric. The actions angered and frustrated a number of public safety and technology vendor entities that had been critical of the road map and supported the rules proposed last year and/or the original draft order.

While defending the rules proposed last year as “aggressive but achievable,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hailed the order adopted today, while acknowledging it is a product of compromise.

“The roadmap proposal was a big step forward, but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders. Our response was to challenge industry to address the concerns raised by other public safety stakeholders,” Mr. Wheeler said. “The carriers responded, and their additional commitments substantially strengthened the roadmap approach. We will have better data than ever before about carriers’ location accuracy performance, and we will hold them to account if they do not live up to their commitments. In addition, the smaller wireless carriers have agreed to the same commitments as the nationwide carriers, with certain adjustments to reflect their position in the marketplace and their more limited resources.”

Mr. Wheeler added, “The result of these efforts is today’s Order. It is an action that will lead to significant improvements in 911 location accuracy: taking advantage of the good work done by the carriers, APCO, and NENA, while also providing confidence-building measures, setting clear targets and deadlines for improving indoor location, and holding parties accountable for results. This order establishes achievable benchmarks centered around the commitments made by the carriers and public safety assurances that will close the 911 readiness gap. That is why I support it.”

But the Chairman added that the FCC was “establishing a floor, not a ceiling. It is a beginning, not an end. We should not be satisfied with a situation where Uber can consistently find a user’s house via an app, but the EMT’s location fix is within half a football field 80 percent of the time. I hope our efforts will encourage app developers to work with the public safety community to develop an ‘Uber for 911.’ Imagine – the carriers would be improving their capabilities, while ‘there’s an app for that’ could harness the capabilities that enable Google, Uber, or Waze to find a consumer with pinpoint accuracy.”

Commissioner Rosenworcel said, “For the first time, we bring indoor dispatchable location into our wireless location accuracy policies.  This is big—and it is bound to save lives.” “Our effort today has taken a lot of work and wrangling,” she added. “Thank you to the countless first responders and the authorities at the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International and National Emergency Number Association who helped us in this process. Your insights and assistance have been invaluable.”

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn said she voted to concur in the item because she would have preferred adoption of the tougher rules proposed by the FCC last year, noting the “stronger 9-1-1 location accuracy requirements at the two and three-year benchmarks.”  But she commended the four national wireless carriers, CTIA, NENA, and APCO for proposing their road map. “I want to thank those entities, and my colleagues, for supporting the decision to turn some of those voluntary commitments, into rules,” she said.

The Commissioner also stressed that the order adopted today “will require industry to demonstrate progress towards providing vertical location information, which is critical for finding those in high rise buildings. It gives the industry a reasonable opportunity to pursue a dispatchable location solution, that would send the street address and if relevant, suite or apartment number, of the calling party.”  She added, “I am glad to say today, that within three years of the effective date of this order, we will require nationwide wireless providers to develop a vertical, or z-axis, location information proposal and submit it to the Commission for approval.”

Commissioner Ajit Pai noted that when the FCC adopted its NPRM in the proceeding last year, he stressed the importance of adopting “rules that are both ‘aggressive and achievable,’” adding that the record “shows that our original proposals were impractical and unrealistic.  “So I am pleased that we’ve adjusted course and are now adopting requirements that meet those two watchwords,” Mr. Pai added. “I am also glad that the framework we’re putting in place puts us on a path to providing emergency responders with a ‘dispatchable location’—that’s the room, office, or suite number where the 911 caller is located.”

Mr. Pai also added that while he “had concerns with this Order when it first circulated, I appreciate the changes that have been made and would like to thank Commissioner Rosenworcel in particular for helping steer the item down a better path. I am pleased too that the Order now makes it clear that nothing in our decision authorizes the use of any non-U.S. satellite system in conjunction with the 911 system.”

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly praised the wireless industry, NENA, and APCO for hammering out their road map. “By setting a goal to provide dispatchable location to first responders within specified timeframes and with specific performance results, however, we are tasking industry with a quite a challenge,” he said. “In response to the 2014 Notice, I cautioned that deadlines needed to be realistic and that we should not adopt rules based on unproven technologies that have not been commercially deployed. Within the modified roadmap confines, industry and public safety are prepared to take on this challenge, along with testing alternative technologies if dispatchable address cannot be timely deployed. In fact, I am able to support today’s item because we are adopting a compromise that addresses many of the concerns raised on this issue. I am sure that everyone – including my colleagues and stakeholders alike – can look at what is being adopted today and see particular portions that they would have done differently, but this is a consensus document receiving all of my colleagues’ support and it skillfully balances all of the competing interests.

“Ultimately, this item should serve to bring tremendous benefits forward for all concerned,” Mr. O’Rielly added. “The public safety community will receive more precise information, in the desired format, to increase efficiency and rapidly respond to emergencies. Industry has a path forward that will likely be achievable in the timeframes provided. Moreover, companies will not be faced with a single vendor solution or possibly forced to build out multiple indoor location solutions, wasting money and stranding investment. And, the real winners, of course, are American consumers, who, in time, will be more locatable by first responders when placing a wireless call.”

However, Mr. O’Rielly renewed his “concern that the location information resulting from the implementation of this item could be used by government agencies to pinpoint the location of law abiding Americans. While this is not the direct responsibility of the Commission, I trust that appropriate oversight, including congressional involvement, will seek to ensure that this information is not used or abused to the detriment of the American people. Improving location accuracy for wireless 911 callers should not happen at the expense of greater exposure to surveillance or monitoring by government officials. It is to help public safety during emergencies, not limit the freedoms and lawful activities of American citizens.”

Most of the reaction to today’s order praised the FCC, although some stakeholders complained that the agency had adopted rules that were weaker than those proposed last year or included in the original version of the draft order.

“Make no mistake, the order adopted by the FCC today will put lives – those of citizens in an emergency as well as responding personnel  – at risk,” said International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger. “The FCC’s original proposal had the full and enthusiastic support of the public safety community but the Commission apparently caved in to incredible pressure from the nation’s cell carriers for a weak, unsafe rule. The FCC should immediately reconsider today’s vote; the difference could literally mean life or death.”

The union added that it supported the proposal to require carriers to locate callers within three meters vertically. “The adopted order contains no such requirement, delaying consideration of specific indoor location measurements for the foreseeable future,” IAFF noted. “Additionally, the adopted order ‘blends’ indoor and outdoor accuracy test measurements. Because outdoor measurements have very high yield and accuracy, such blending will mask indoor accuracy results, providing an inaccurate evaluation of indoor accuracy.”

“Unfortunately for millions of indoor 911 callers in need, the FCC has adopted the weak carrier roadmap over its own strong proposal. The Find Me 911 Coalition has been the strongest supporter of the Commission’s efforts to find wireless 911 callers indoors, but we have deep concerns that the final rule contains a catastrophic flaw, as it does not require the cell phone companies to measure or report indoor call accuracy,” said Jamie Barnett, executive director of the Find Me 911 Coalition and counsel to TruePosition, Inc., a location technology vendor that provides funding to the coalition.

“While the rule claims to improve indoor accuracy, there appear to be no indoor-specific requirements in it, only a ‘blended’ indoor-outdoor standard that allows the carriers to take credit for their outdoor location performance,” Mr. Barnett added. “Thus, the phone companies can meet all of their obligations for years or longer without implementing any new technologies or finding any more indoor callers. … While we have not yet seen the text of the rule, we believe the rule as described is a triumph of carrier rhetoric over substantive accuracy requirements.”

“Subject to the details in the actual Report and Order, and based on the Commissioners’ statements this morning, we are disappointed that the benchmarks and timelines are not as strict/higher as proposed from the Commission in February 2014,” said Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “However, we are glad there will be some rules and policies in place for indoor location accuracy.  We stand ready to work with the four major wireless carriers and third party suppliers to make this a reality within the next six years.”

Some of those who had leveled complaints at the road map said today they believe some of their concerns have been addressed in the order adopted today. Others said they wanted to look at the text of the item before commenting. The text is expected out within days, according to Mr. Simpson.

Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Communications & Technology Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, one of a number of major public safety groups that had been critical of the road map and supportive of the rules proposed last year, said that “until I have had a chance to review the actual order approved by the FCC today, it is difficult to know exactly what it requires. However, from what I heard at the FCC meeting today, it appears the order probably accomplishes much of what the public safety community has been asking for.”

The California chapter of NENA, which had also supported the rules proposed last year, today cited modifications to provisions in recent months and said that “it is our hope that the final version will result in the dramatic improvements that are so desperately needed by our frontline call-takers and dispatchers.”

The statement also praised the work of NENA and APCO, even though Danita Crombach, president of the California chapter, signed a letter with other public safety professionals and disability rights and senior citizen advocates before the road map was even unveiled blasting it and complaining of being “shut out of the process” (TRDaily, Nov. 13, 2014).

During a presentation at today’s meeting, Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant, who is president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, stressed the importance of having indoor location information, saying that 64% of wireless calls to PSAPs come from indoors. While IAFF has complained that the FCC had moved away from rules proposed last year, he commended the FCC for taking action today on indoor location accuracy.

Backers of the road map said they were pleased with the order adopted today, even though it includes changes from the original road map.

APCO said that “the Commission adopted an Order that substantially embraces the Roadmap, including additional assurances that APCO supported and worked with its partners to achieve.  As a result, all will benefit from dramatic improvements to 9-1-1 location accuracy.”  APCO Executive Director Derek Poarch said that “the wireless indoor 9-1-1 problem required new thinking:  leveraging widely-deployed, commercial location-based services, ensuring a new degree of openness and transparency in a technology-neutral test bed for proving performance of location technologies, having public safety become part of the solution along with the industry, using live 9-1-1 call data for the first time to track improvements, and forging a new regulatory model for solving increasingly important and complex public safety issues. Throughout negotiations with the carriers, meetings with the FCC and other stakeholders, and relentless advocacy from vendors with a significant financial interest, APCO held true to its principles.”

“Under the new rules, wireless carriers will be required, for the first time, to use the latest technology to identify the location of consumers who call 9-1-1, even when calls are placed indoors,” NENA said. “With its emphasis on identifying a caller’s physical address, the new FCC policy will enable public safety professionals to serve the public with greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency than ever before. By working together with wireless carriers, the public safety community has succeeded in forging an agreement that will drive faster deployment of higher-accuracy location technologies.”  NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes told TRDaily that while he wants to study the text of the order, he said he thinks it is “extremely consistent with what we’ve been working toward.”

“We look forward to reviewing today’s item, which we believe embraces the commitments made by carriers and public safety, including quantifiable deployment metrics and deadlines to assure widespread improvements for first responders,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and chief executive officer of CTIA, which helped negotiate the road map on behalf of its carrier members. “As Americans continue to increasingly rely on mobile devices as their primary communications device for their connected lives, today’s action by the FCC will help save lives. While the requirements in today’s Order are aggressive, we remain fully committed to delivering on the Roadmap’s promise of greatly enhanced location information.”

Charles Miramonti, chief of Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services, said, “Today’s decision by the FCC to institute rules that allow the public safety community to use universally-accepted Bluetooth and Wi?Fi technologies to acquire a dispatchable location from wireless 911 callers is a major win for public safety. Accurate location information is crucial when promptly responding to an emergency, and by heeding the advice of key stakeholders and allowing first responders to know not just the building the call is coming from, but the specific indoor location, the FCC has clearly recognized the shift towards mobile usage and the need for a 21st century system.”

However, major EMS groups had criticized the road map and backed the rules proposed last year.

“The FCC has charted an aggressive course that will provide measurable and dramatic improvement to indoor location accuracy when wireless consumers make emergency calls,” said Steve Sharkey, chief-engineering and technology policy for T-Mobile US, Inc. “We are committed to collaborating with public safety and other stakeholders to move forward and provide the most advanced technology benefitting public safety and consumers.”

The FCC’s action today “marks a new course in using indoor technologies to deliver a ‘dispatchable location’ for indoor 9-1-1 calls,” the Telecommunications Industry Association said. “First responders will now be able to obtain the civic address of the calling party, plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or other information when needed to adequately identify the location of the calling party.”


“Competitive carriers face unique challenges accessing devices and deploying next generation networks, and I’m glad the Commission recognized these challenges and adopted rules granting non-nationwide carriers additional time to implement location accuracy requirements,” said Steve Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, which had submitted a proposal to give smaller carriers more time to comply with 911 location accuracy milestones (TRDaily, Jan. 20). “It is certainly no easy task for smaller carriers with limited resources to implement additional requirements, so the Commission should be commended for granting additional time to meet deployment and reporting requirements.”

“There are many technologies that have a role to play when a consumer dials 911 from his or her mobile phone, and chief among those technologies is Wi-Fi,” said Mary Brown, director-government affairs for Cisco Systems, Inc. “In fact, because Wi-Fi Access Points are associated with a civic, dispatchable address, Wi-Fi generated location data from residential locations will play an important role in achieving the goals established by the FCC for locating 911 wireless callers.

“Various market sources indicate Wi-Fi penetration of US households is almost 60 percent. Households with fixed line broadband use Wi-Fi more heavily, with Wi-Fi penetration at 80 percent,” Ms. Brown added. “Consistent with historical growth in the market, Cisco expects Wi-Fi household penetration to continue to increase, and believes Wi-Fi can be an important tool toward finding callers. Enterprises can help, too, because emergencies also happen at work.  A recent Cisco survey of enterprises with more than 100 employees shows that 80 percent of companies either have Wi-Fi everywhere or in designated areas.”

PCIA said the Commission “took action to strengthen first responder services by setting forth achievable goals to deliver vital location information more quickly and more accurately, especially for indoor calls.”

Public Knowledge, which was one of a number of groups that expressed concern about security and privacy issues related to use of the information in the database, said it is pleased that the FCC’s “order requires the carriers to submit a security and privacy plan to protect the device location information that would be collected under the rules.”

“Public safety and privacy are both critical fundamental values that guide our communications networks. These values do not need to conflict with each other if policymakers ensure that we consider the privacy implications of new technologies before we have implemented them,” said Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney for the group.

“Today the FCC has recognized the importance of privacy interests and begun the work of protecting personal information about how and where consumers use their cell phones and WiFi-capable devices,” she added. “However, this is only the beginning. There is much work left to be done to ensure the network protects users’ privacy by its very design. We expect the Commission to continue to work on this important issue in the context of E911 and the technology transitions to ensure our critical information networks are secure and protect users from third-party corporate or government surveillance.”

Ms. Griffin added, “We are glad the FCC has improved the effectiveness of the proposed roadmap from CTIA, APCO, and NENA. Transitions to new technologies, including wireless, should leave no one behind. We expect the Commission will continue to evaluate carriers’ location accuracy measures and ensure help will come to those who call 911.” The group had expressed concern that the original road map language would have left consumers with older phones out of the 911 location advancements.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com