The FCC on Thursday voted to move forward on strengthening E911 standards to help more accurately locate cell phone users in an emergency.
The agency tentatively concluded, based on a proposal by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, that wireless companies should have tougher geographic standards when testing the location accuracy of their devices.
Commissioners will consider making rules requiring carriers to meet accuracy standards of individual call centers. Carriers have been allowed to test their accuracy averages over their entire networks, which can be nationwide or regional, meaning a good result in one area could counter bad results elsewhere.
Multistate or statewide averaging can mask the reliability of 911 outside of large urban areas, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said. Quite simply, providing location accuracy information on a multistate or statewide basis is not enough. It does not provide public safety with the information it needs to do its job effectively.
Commissioners also said VoIP providers whose services can be used in more than one location should be held to the same standards as wireless carriers.
Many in the wireless industry, including Verizon Communications Inc. and T-Mobile USA Inc., are questioning the efforts saying they arent sure if local testing was even practical.
The FCC will study the issue further before issuing final standards.
The agency on Thursday also extended the disability access requirements of Sections 225 and 255 of the Communications Act to VoIP services. The requirements currently apply to traditional phone services.
Section 255, adopted in 1999, basically requires telecommunications providers ensure their products are designed to be and are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Section 225, calls for providers to contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund and offer 711 abbreviated dialing for access to relay services. TRS is a service that allows people with hearing or speech impairments to use the telephone.