Rural Carriers Ask For E911 Extension

The FCC allowed rural carriers a later deadline for E911, but now the Rural Cellular Association is asking for an extension of the December 31 deadline for handset-based E911 solutions. What’s happening here is that with network-based solutions, the carrier can upgrade just the towers and instantly tri-laterate all of the handhelds they serve from the network side, but for a handset-based solution to work, customers need to upgrade to a newer handset. This makes it difficult for the carriers to control the pace of the upgrade, because many rural customers are tenaciously holding on to their very old 3 Watt analog phones, which tend to have far better rural coverage than newer digital 0.5W phones, which thrive among the closer towers in cities. So does legislating a certain level of digital handset penetration for the rural subscribers make them any safer? I argue that no one can say: for 911 calls customers will have to pre-choose either analog’s wider coverage or digital’s LBS. But what good is LBS in places where you can’t even get a digital signal? I’d rather get through to the call center and have my location undisclosed than fail to get through, but my phone knows where it is! Even the Consumer’s Union, in their 2004 review of mobile phones, recommended people buy analog phones for the safety motive of wider coverage. Therefore, on this debate, we think the Rural carriers should be granted an extension, but even beyond that, they should be permitted to sell analog phones that do not meet E911 requirements if that’s what the customer wants.

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