FCC Adds Nationwide Requirement to 9-1-1 Indoor Location Accuracy Rules
Friday, July 17, 2020 | Comments

In a 9-1-1 indoor location accuracy order adopted July 16, the FCC affirmed the 2021 and 2023 Z-axis requirements the commission established last year, rejecting a proposal to weaken them. The commission added a new requirement that nationwide wireless providers deploy Z-axis technology nationwide by April 2025, while affording non-nationwide wireless providers an additional year to do so within their service areas.

In November 2019, the commission established the Z-axis location accuracy metric of ±3 meters relative to the handset for 80%of indoor wireless 9-1-1 calls. Nationwide wireless providers must meet April 2021 and April 2023 deadlines for deploying Z-axis technology, which must comply with the metric for accuracy in the top 25 and 50 markets, respectively.

The latest rules obligate wireless providers to meet an increasingly stringent series of location accuracy benchmarks in accordance with a timetable, including providing the caller’s dispatchable location, such as the street address and apartment number, or coordinate-based vertical (Z-axis) location. The rules include providing height above ellipsoid (HAE) data, which has been criticized by some public-safety officials for not being truly useable and meaningful to dispatchers, potentially hindering response times.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel applauded the order’s nationwide component but criticized the HAE requirement. “Then remember that there are over 6,000 public-safety answering points (PSAPs) nationwide,” she said “… They’ve been told they need to upgrade their systems to next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1). This is going to cost over $12 billion. No one knows where this funding is going to come from, and yet we have tacked on a brand-new obligation for 9-1-1 centers to take raw height above ellipsoid data and hope and pray they will be able to translate it into something actionable.”

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) said last year HAE requirements would require too much time and money to be effective.

The FCC also required wireless providers, beginning in January 2022, to provide dispatchable location with wireless 9-1-1 calls “when it is technically feasible and cost effective to do so, which will promote consistency in the commission’s 9-1-1 rules across technology platforms.”

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) said last year it didn’t ask the commission to adopt dispatchable location because complete, accurate nationwide datasets of indoor addresses are not available.

“If the FCC requires that wireless carriers deliver a dispatchable location, what happens when that location is wrong?” NENA said in comments last year. “Will the door to kick down be the wrong one? What happens if the location is correct, but it’s presented to the telecommunicator as Office G-1475b. Is that right next to G-1575b, or is it a floor above that?”

Rosenworcel also criticized an opt-in approach to the latest 9-1-1 location rules. “Every wireless consumer will only get full location information sent with their emergency calls if they perform a specific software update on their device or respond to a notice from their carrier regarding an application that may be available,” she said in a statement. “Let’s be honest, in the best case a whole lot of people are going to miss this one, never download it or respond to the fine print in a service notice. Plus, there are low-cost phones on the market that lack the sensor technology necessary to make this even work.

“As a result, the record suggests we might only get vertical location information with as few as 2% of calls to 9-1-1. That should set off alarm bells. Moreover, this is fundamentally at odds with how 9-1-1 has previously been provisioned in this country. Our tradition is to make it simple and democratic; possible for everyone to reach 9-1-1 everywhere. But now full location information only accompanies your call if you opt in to this new system or have the right phone.”

“NENA commends FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and supports the vertical location accuracy item on the July meeting agenda,” said Dan Henry, regulatory counsel and director of government affairs for NENA. “The new rules will further improve Z-axis location accuracy for wireless 9-1-1 calls, not just in the top 25 or 50 largest U.S. cities, but across the country. The sixth report and order (R&O), like the fifth R&O before it, strikes a good balance between public safety’s needs and what is technically feasible.”

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