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FTC recommends guaranteed status emergency cellular calls

December 1, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Cellular phone users will be guaranteed that emergency 911 calls will be completed, just as calls made from regular phones are, under action taken by federal regulators Monday.

The Federal Communications Commission’s action clears the way for key parts of rules adopted in June 1996 to go into effect.

The FCC had delayed enforcement of the rules to address industry concerns. Minor changes were made to the rules, which are to take effect in about a week, an FCC spokeswoman said.

``When it comes to helping people in emergency situations, we have an obligation to do all that we can to make sure that there are no impediments to their receiving help,″ said FCC Chairman Bill Kennard.

Millions of calls to 911 are made over cellular phones.

The FCC’s rules would ensure that 911 calls be completed when a cellular customer ``roams″ into areas in which his or her company does not have an agreement with the local cellular provider to carry the call.

For years, those calls typically were not completed. But the FCC now says that the situation is improving and that many cellular companies on their own give special treatment to connecting 911 calls.

Also, people whose cellular service had lapsed could call 911 as long as the phone’s ``mobile identification number″ had not changed, the FCC said. The identification number is generally the cellular phone number. The same would apply to cell phone owners who never subscribed to a cellular service but who have an identification number.

When a cellular phone does not have a mobile identification number _ usually when a phone has not been activated _ the FCC will require cellular companies to complete emergency calls.

Originally, the FCC said it would let local or state governments that run 911 dispatch centers decide whether to require cellular companies to complete these calls.

The FCC rules also require cellular companies to upgrade their networks with technology to locate a 911 caller.

Unlike 911 calls made from regular phones, the location of a cell phone caller is not automatically sent to emergency dispatchers. Knowing the caller’s location is essential for a prompt response, public safety groups say.

The FCC will require cellular companies beginning Oct. 1, 2001, to upgrade their networks with technology that tells 911 dispatchers the location of an emergency caller to within a radius of about 125 yards.

In the meantime, the FCC is requiring cellular companies as of April 1, 1998, to give 911 dispatchers the capability to call back the person making an emergency call.

When a New Jersey commuter train crashed several years ago, some passengers whipped out their cellular phones and called 911, but because they didn’t know where the train was, the communications were of little help to rescuers.

When people call 911 from regular phones, 911 dispatchers automatically get the number of the caller because it travels with the call over the telephone wire. The phone numbers are instantly matched with addresses on a data base. With cellular phones, the numbers are not linked to a location.

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