2003-02-01 / Community

Weiner: ‘Cell Phone Companies Drop The Ball’

Weiner: ‘Cell Phone Companies Drop The Ball’

Representatives Anthony Weiner and Joseph Crowley have released new information showing that cell phone companies and federal regulators have failed to implement life saving technology that would allow emergency calls from cell phones to be tracked by police and other emergency responders.  At a Capitol Hill press conference, the Congressmen announced new legislation that would accelerate implementation of tracking technology, and strengthen FCC sanctions against wireless providers who fail to comply with emergency regulations.

In 1996, the FCC and wireless providers entered into an agreement requiring the implementation of technology that would allow police, fire, and rescue personnel to locate the whereabouts of a person calling 9-1-1 on a cell phone.  Wireless providers were required to make substantial progress towards this goal by October of 2001.

  However, despite the ready availability of the necessary technology, zero progress has been made.  That's because when the six largest wireless providers-AT&T, Verizon, Cingular, Sprint, Nextel, and Voice Stream--complained loudly about the cost, the FCC buckled, pushing back the implementation threshold date back to 2005.   

  But that's only the start of the cell phone 9-1-1 problem.  Every year in NYC, an estimated 120,000 calls placed to 9-1-1 on cell phones don't go through, leaving distressed callers without recourse to police, firefighters or EMT's.  More than 500 call swallowing dead spots have been identified in NYC for the six major carriers--Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Nexten and Cingular.

  It get's worse.  A recent study found that 33 popular cell phone brands aren't equipped with FCC mandated technology that's supposed to make that every 9-1-1 call placed from within a dead spot goes through, by switching from one carrier to another if the call doesn't go through in 17 seconds.  Phones tested that do not include the mandated technology include models from Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, LG , Kyocera, Audiovox, Sanyo, Samsung, Mitsubishi and Panasonic.

  Weiner and Crowley have announced new legislation that will accelerate the FCC's deadline for implementation of the tracking technology.

In addition, Weiner announced plans to introduce legislation to increase disclosure by wireless providers regarding the location of dead spots, and to tougher FCC sanctions for wireless carriers that fail to comply with emergency regulations.

  "While our hopes and prayers remain with the families involved in the wrenching events now unfolding on the Long Island Sound, we must also begin to look for answers," said Rep. Weiner. "For years, cell phone companies have spent countless dollars on costly advertising campaigns and frivolous bells and whistles, all the while ignoring their fundamental mission: to provide a service that works to consumers, especially under the most harrowing of circumstances.  If indeed a cell phone tracking system could have facilitated a quick rescue in this difficult case, then the cell phone industry and the FCC must shoulder some of the responsibility for what we hope and pray will not turn out to be a horrible tragedy."

  "The tragedy of the four young men off City Island last Friday night might have been averted if the cell phone providers stopped dragging their feet with the full compliance of the FCC in bringing the E-911 tracking equipment to our first responders," said Rep. Crowley.  "With one-third of all emergency calls being made on cell phones, we need to ensure our 911 dispatchers-our first responders-have the tools in their arsenal to protect all of us.  This is a Homeland Security issue of the 21st Century."

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