Commenters have generally supported the FCC’s goals in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would require multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) to allow for direct dialing to 911 and to provide the location information of callers. However, some parties expressed concerns about technical feasibility and overly prescriptive regulations that could inhibit innovation.
The FCC adopted the PS docket 17-239 NPRM in September pursuant to two new laws, the Kari’s Law Act and RAY BAUM’S Act (TR Daily, Sept. 26). The Kari’s Law Act, which was enacted in February, is named after Kari Dunn, who was killed by her estranged husband in 2013 in a Texas motel room as her daughter attempted to call for help but couldn’t reach 911 because she didn’t dial “9” first.
The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, the leading developer of location accuracy technical standards, noted that while corroboration, where feasible, is an important part of validating dispatchable location information, there are complexities and costs associated with the validation of street addresses for MLTS, particularly in multi-building environments. ATIS commented that deploying equipment to validate and maintain the accuracy of dispatchable locations for MLTS on large commercial campuses would be cost prohibitive to enterprise owners and operators. ATIS expressed concerns that the “all platforms” approach could result in overly prescriptive regulations that inhibit innovation.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association also shared concerns about feasibility. The hotel and lodging industry commented that the FCC should take into account the complexity and technical difficulties for businesses to comply with callback number and granular dispatch able location requirements. An on-site notification requirement must be technologically feasible and ensure sufficient flexibility for hotels. The American Hotel & Lodging Association stated that the FCC should not adopt granular dispatchable location requirements at this time. Hotels typically do not install, operate, or manage a MLTS. The hotel and lodging industry also noted that the FCC should establish a uniform compliance date and provide sufficient time for businesses, including hotels, to contract for new equipment and service.
Similarly, Comtech Telecommunications Corp. expressed concerns about identifying location information within specific buildings. Any MLTS deployment that is extended vertically or horizontally will need to provide more detailed location information, such as the caller’s suite number, building number, unit number, and floor number. Comtech, a leading provider of advanced communications solutions for both commercial and government customers which currently supports approximately half of all U.S. wireless E911 calls, recognized that a dispatchable location can be determined for all 911-capable services, but MLTS creates more challenges. Comtech proposed that the FCC could require the inclusion of a caller’s specific location that is shown as a point on a building floor map. Comtech states that it is imperative that any location requirements adopted for 911 capable services take into consideration the current state of technology and its rapid rate of change.
Likewise, the U.S. Telecom Association worried about stifling innovation. USTelecom noted that it is critically important that the division of responsibility among MLTS market participants be addressed in the resulting regulations should allow MLTS customers to decide whether they want to upload dispatchable location data or to pay someone, like an installer or a third-party vendor, to do so. Mandating that installers upload location data and holding them liable—even in instances when a customer uploads the dispatchable location data—would unnecessarily increase MLTS costs and stifle consumer offerings and innovation in the market.
The American Cable Association supported the FCC’s goals but indicated that not all existing MLTS may be technically capable of providing dispatchable location in compliance with any rule the FCC may adopt. West Safety Services, Inc. indicated that it supported the proposal to the extent technically feasible. The National Emergency Number Association (“NENA”) suggested that the FCC require VoIP providers to more clearly notify users when it appears their actual location differs significantly from their registered location. While the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) supported the FCC’s proposal, the group recommended that the FCC implement an awareness program to help ensure those in the MLTS user and manager communities charged with compliance are aware of the new rules implemented pursuant to Kari’s Law.
The Telecommunications Industry Association commented that prior to adopting dispatchable location requirements, the FCC should consider costs, technical challenges, and the impact on the MLTS industry. The Telecommunications Industry Association expressed its position that the specificity of dispatchable location information contemplated in the proposed rule is not currently technically feasible for all systems. The FCC should allow sufficient time for stakeholder collaboration and standards development.
AT&T, Inc., supported the FCC in its efforts to improve 911 calling for consumers using MLTS systems, with some proposed modifications. AT&T indicated that customer engagement will be necessary to implement the dispatchable location requirements. Even after system installation, customers may have the ability to unilaterally move telephone stations to different locations, which may require updating the dispatchable location. Customers acting as MLTS managers must be responsible for updating any dispatchable location information, if necessary.
Cisco Systems, Inc., also generally supported the proposed MLTS 911 direct dialing and notification requirements. With respect to the provision of a callback number and dispatchable location, Cisco urged the FCC to take into consideration (1) the wide variety of MLTS technologies and capabilities, (2) the numerous stakeholders involved in enabling access to 911 via MLTS, (3) the many different scenarios in which an end-user may have access to and use an MLTS, (4) the significantly different expectations that an end-user may have depending on the type of system and setting where the MLTS is being used, and (5) the very real costs associated with overly prescriptive rules.
Similarly, Microsoft Corp. indicated some technical and policy concerns with the proposed rule. Microsoft commented that service providers subject to an emergency calling obligation should be permitted to use the best available location information for providing dispatchable location information. Further, Microsoft noted that an improved U.S. emergency calling solution will arrive more quickly and be more effective if the FCC enables the use of available solutions and a global, standardized approach to location capabilities and end-to-end architectures. Microsoft also commented that outbound-only calling features do not create an expectation of access to emergency services and should not be subject to the obligation.
Like Microsoft, Verizon commented on technical challenges with the proposed rule. Verizon also suggested that the proposed February 2020 effective date should be pushed back. Applying a February 2020 compliance date is simply not feasible for all services. Verizon commented that the FCC should focus on the characteristics of each particular service to determine whether, how, and when dispatchable location information should be included with a 911 call. The regulations should focus on system capability, not on detailed regulation of implementation. Any new dispatchable location requirements should apply on a service specific basis, according to Verizon. Verizon commented that companies should be able to provide dispatchable location information on many fixed services, but each will have unique implementation challenges. Additionally, different requirements should apply to nomadic and fixed interconnected VoIP services.
NCTA supported the FCC’s goal with the proposed rule, but also shared concerns about feasibility and costs. Small businesses with only a few telephone lines are situated differently from larger businesses such as hotels and hospitals. For such a small customer the street address, augmented in some cases by a suite number, will often be the dispatchable location for the entire business. The NCTA commented that the FCC should allow providers to rely on information obtained from end users to fulfill any dispatchable location requirement for nomadic VoIP, at least until such time as reliable automatic dispatchable location methods can be developed. —Brian Craig