FCC Proposes New Indoor Location Accuracy Rules for 9-1-1 (2/21/14)
Friday, February 21, 2014 | Comments

The FCC proposed rules to help emergency responders better locate wireless callers to 9-1-1, particularly in indoor locations.

The proposed updates to the commission’s enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) rules take advantage of technological developments that allow for more accurate location information to be transmitted with 9-1-1 calls, an FCC statement said.

The FCC’s current E9-1-1 rules require wireless providers to automatically transmit information to 9-1-1 call centers on the location of wireless 9-1-1 callers within certain parameters for accuracy. These rules, adopted in 1996 with a major revision in 2010, enable wireless providers to meet this accuracy standard based solely on the performance of outdoor wireless 9-1-1 calls. However, many Americans are replacing landlines with wireless phones, and calling patterns are changing with more wireless calls taking place indoors.

The proposed E9-1-1 rules include indoor location accuracy — particularly location accuracy in challenging indoor environments such as large multistory buildings, where first responders are often unable to determine the floor or even the building where the 9-1-1 call originated. Determining the location of indoor wireless callers is more challenging than determining an outdoor location, but innovation and technological developments are making it easier to locate mobile devices wherever they are.

The FCC proposed in the near term that wireless providers meet interim location accuracy metrics that would be sufficient to identify the building for most indoor calls. The commission also proposed that wireless providers deliver vertical location information that would enable first responders to identify the floor level for most calls from multistory buildings.

In the long term, the commission seeks to develop more granular indoor location accuracy standards that would require identification of the specific room, office or apartment where a wireless 9-1-1 call is made. These standards would rely on the advancing capabilities of indoor location technology and increasing deployment of in-building communications infrastructure. The FCC also proposed additional steps to strengthen its existing E9-1-1 rules to ensure delivery of more timely, accurate and actionable location information for all wireless 9-1-1 calls.

The commission is seeking comment on whether to revisit its timeframe for replacing its current handset- and network-based location accuracy standards with a single standard in light of technological developments.

While seeking comment on its proposals, the commission also encouraged industry, the public-safety community and other stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop alternate proposals for its consideration. The commission emphasized that its ultimate objective is that all Americans —whether they are calling from urban or rural areas, from indoors or outdoors — receive the support they need in times of emergency.

“As state regulators, we’ve focused on this issue as a matter of priority, evidenced by a resolution we passed at our recent winter meetings,” said Colette D. Honorable, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). “As the FCC moves ahead with this proposal, we hope the agency will clarify that current rules regarding wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy apply for both indoor and outdoor calls. In our resolution, we also ask that the FCC set rules based on technology that is technically feasible, commercially available, standards-based and non-proprietary. We look forward to working with the FCC on this issue going forward.”

The topic has been debated in several forums lately, including in two articles on MCCmag.com. The first article said FCC policy is necessary for indoor location accuracy. The second article said best practices are a better option than policy.

In January, a Senate hearing panel debated the issue as well. In March 2013, the FCC-chartered Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) released a report of the results from its independent field trial of indoor wireless location technologies for E9-1-1.

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