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North American Carriers Obligated To Provide Indoor 911 Location Tracking

January 29, 2015 - Written By David Steele

If you call 911 from a US landline, or from a cell ‘phone when outdoors, emergency operators can track where the call originates from with reasonable accuracy. When you make the call indoors from a cell ‘phone, there is no official tracking facility in place. Mobile operators have not needed to place a tracking feature in place but this loophole now appears to be about to closed by the FCC, Federal Communications Commission. New rules will require carriers to provide an indoor position, accurate within fifty meters at least 40% of the time, inside the next two years. Carriers will need to improve the reliability of the location service within five years to 60%. Our source explains that the major North American carriers proposed a voluntary roadmap for providing and improving indoor tracking, but opposed regulation forcing them to comply with given metrics for establishing reliability and accuracy. At the time, AT&T said that the new rules would “waste scarce resources” and other organisations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, expressed concerns that the technology could be used to “pinpoint the location of law-abiding Americans.”

Conversely, the Find Me 911 Coalition said in a statement to The Verge website that the new rules didn’t go far enough. The Find Me 911 Coalition have pushed the FCC for stricter regulations and they said this on the matter: “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. 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.”

There are a number of ways to implement indoor location tracking services and it’s true that the carriers may not need to implement new technologies. AT&T’s use of words is unfortunate, especially for anybody who has had to rely on a 911 call in an indoors environment in a life and death situation. It also feels that both sides are using scaremongering tactics to try to persuade people to see their point of view. Have you or somebody you know had to call 911 when indoors? If so, would it have been beneficial to have the emergency services aware of your location? Let us know in the comments below.