FCC Explores Feasibility of More Precise Wireless Caller-Location Capabilities for E911 Calls From Indoor Locations and Strengthening of Existing E911 Rules

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Even as privacy advocates become increasingly nervous about the extent to which our communications devices keep tabs on our whereabouts, the FCC is looking to make it easier to monitor our location more precisely, at least when calls to 911 are involved. In a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Third FNPRM) released on Feb. 21, 2014, available here, the FCC proposes new rules to enhance E911 indoor location accuracy and strengthen existing Phase II E911 location accuracy rules.

Comments will be due 45 days after the Third FNPRM is published in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 30 days after that.

Proposed Indoor Location Accuracy Rules
Under current E911 rules, wireless providers must automatically transmit to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) information on the location of wireless 911 callers within certain parameters for accuracy. Under these rules, which only apply to PSAPs that have the technical capability to make use of the location data, the PSAP operator will generally see the caller’s number and the longitude and latitude of the caller’s location within a specified radius. But if the 911 call is made from within a multi-story building, without input from the caller, the PSAP operator may receive only the general location of the caller, but not the particular room or floor from which the call is coming. It doesn’t do a lot of good to send an ambulance to a building if the emergency responders do not know where in the building to look for the patient.

Accordingly, the FCC has proposed new indoor location accuracy rules to address this issue.

In the near term, the FCC proposes that wireless providers meet location accuracy metrics that would be sufficient for first responders to identify the building and, for calls from multi-story buildings, the floor level for most indoor calls. Specifically, under the proposed rules, CMRS providers subject to Section 20.18 of the FCC’s rules would be required to provide:

  • Horizontal location (x- and y-axis) information within 50 meters of the caller for 67 percent of 911 calls placed from indoor environments within two years of the effective date of adoption of rules, and for 80 percent of indoor calls within five years; and
  • Vertical location (z-axis) information within 3 meters of the caller for 67 percent of indoor 911 calls within three years of the adoption of rules, and for 80 percent of calls within five years.

In order to demonstrate compliance with indoor location accuracy requirements, the FCC proposes that CMRS providers go through an independently administered testing program modeled on the indoor test bed administered by the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC), or alternative testing means so long as the alternative provides the same level of test result reliability as the CSRIC test.

The FCC also seeks comment on whether it should adopt a waiver process for CMRS providers to seek relief from the indoor location accuracy requirements.

In the long term, the Commission seeks comment on developing more granular indoor location accuracy standards that would identify the specific room, office, or apartment where an indoor wireless 911 call is made. The FCC requests comment on what technologies could be leveraged to facilitate that goal, and in what timeframe. As specific examples, the FCC asks whether small cells and Distributed Antenna System (DAS), location-based services that are implemented in commercial mobile device operating systems (location-based services combine GPS and Wi-Fi to locate a device), or other commercial technology could be leveraged to provide indoor location information.

Strengthening Existing E911 Location Accuracy Rules
The FCC also proposes additional steps to strengthen its existing E911 rules to ensure delivery of more timely, accurate, and actionable location information for all wireless 911 calls.

Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on whether to implement the following measures:

30 Second Time to First Fix
As part of its existing Phase II E911 requirements and the proposed indoor requirements, the FCC proposes that in order for the 911 call to be counted towards compliance with location accuracy requirements (both indoor and outdoor), CMRS providers must deliver the required location information within a maximum period of 30 seconds. The FCC believes that this proposal is both technically feasible and consistent with the record developed to date. Additionally, for purposes of determining compliance, the FCC proposes to allow CMRS providers to exclude 911 calls lasting 10 seconds or less because such calls do not provide sufficient time to generate a location fix.

Standardized Confidence and Uncertainty Data
The current E911 rules require CMRS providers to provide confidence and uncertainty (C/U) data on a per-call basis upon PSAP request. C/U data reflects the level of confidence that a specific 911 caller is within a specified distance of the location that the carrier provides. However, the record to date suggests that public safety entities may not request or use C/U data because of the variable way in which such information is generated or presented.

The FCC requests more information on why C/U data is not requested or utilized by PSAPs. Additionally, the FCC proposes to standardize the content and the process for delivery of C/U data and requests comment on requiring a standard confidence level of 90 percent and adopting a standard delivery format.

Identification of Location Technologies Used
CMRS providers use a variety of technologies to fix the location of a caller when a 911 call is made (for example, A-GPS, hybrid A-GPS and Round Trip Time (RTT), or RTT only). Each location technology presents a trade-off between accuracy and time to first fix.

The FCC proposes to require CMRS providers to inform PSAPs of the specific location technology or technologies used to generate location information for each 911 call and seeks comment on the technical feasibility of its proposal, the usefulness of the additional information, whether it would necessary for the PSAP to re-bid for better location information, and whether PSAP CPE would need to be modified if the proposal is adopted.

Conduct Periodic Compliance Testing
In the E911 Location Accuracy Third Report and Order, the FCC stated that it will require CMRS providers to test outdoor location accuracy compliance on a periodic basis and make the results available to the Commission, PSAPs within their service areas, and state 911 offices in the states or territories in which they operate, subject to confidentiality safeguards. The FCC did not, however, make specific testing requirements and procedures mandatory and instead instructed the CSRIC to examine testing methodologies and procedures. The CSRIC report is available here and was published Mar. 14, 2012.

The FCC seeks comment on the testing recommendations in the CSRIC report and invites industry and public safety stakeholders to submit a consensus proposal that addresses the recommendations in the report, and that provides a technically feasible path forward for periodic compliance testing and reporting. In addition, the FCC seeks comment on the whether 24 months is an appropriate timeframe for conducting periodic tests and what enforcement mechanisms should be used to ensure compliance with the proposed periodic testing requirement.

Complaint Procedures
Filings submitted in conjunction with the E911 Location Accuracy workshop, as well as statements made at the workshop itself, suggest that there have been instances in which public safety agencies believe that they are receiving inadequate location information. As a result, the FCC seeks comment on whether it should establish a separate process by which PSAPs or state 911 administrators could raise concerns regarding the provision of E911 service, either through establishment of an informal complaint process at the Commission or through coordination with public safety organizations such as NENA or APCO.

The FCC proposes to require CMRS providers to periodically report E911 Phase II call tracking information, indicating what percentage of wireless 911 calls include Phase II location information. The FCC seeks comment on what data should be included in the report, frequency of the report, and whether there are any alternative measures that could be used to ensure CMRS providers are delivering the required Phase II E911 information.

Accelerate Transition to Handset-Based Location Technology
The FCC’s current Phase II E911 rules require CMRS providers to satisfy outdoor location accuracy requirements over an eight-year implementation period, ending in January 2019, with interim benchmarks. The rules also provide a path by which providers that use network-based location technology to identify location would eventually migrate to handset-based technologies; however, the FCC did not impose a sunset date for using network-based location technologies, and instead concluded that “the network-based standard should sunset at an appropriate point after the end of the eight-year implementation period.”

Given the advancements in technology and the significant increase in the number of handsets with A-GPS capabilities in the subscriber base, the FCC seeks comment on whether all CMRS providers could comply with the same horizontal location accuracy requirements within two years as proposed for indoor calls (that is, accuracy of 50 meters of the caller for 67 percent of 911 calls for indoor and outdoor 911 calls). The adoption of a single requirement would effectively sunset network-based location technologies in two years and the FCC seeks comment on whether any exceptions should be adopted for CMRS providers that may be adversely effected, such as small or rural CMRS providers, or allow them a longer implementation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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