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FCC still wants emergency response

The Federal Communications Commission is standing pat on its demand that carriers have in place by Oct. 1 a way for police to find cell phones dialing 911.

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  Wireless carriers missing 911 deadline
Thera Bradshaw, director, 911 Emergency Communications Department
The Federal Communications Commission is standing pat, for now, on its demand that carriers have in place by Oct. 1 a way for police to find cell phones dialing 911, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Nearly every carrier in the country has said they won't be ready, however. The latest to ask the commission for a delay was Sprint PCS, which on Tuesday said software to power the "Enhanced 911" services on their network won't be ready by the deadline.

Last week, Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, asked for a delay, citing similar technological hurdles. The two carriers are the latest of more than 10 major regional carriers, including AT&T Wireless, to ask for more time to comply.

Despite the volume of requests, a commission spokeswoman said the agency will continue to evaluate each case individually. There is no plan, for now, to push the FCC deadline back, the spokeswoman said.

"We will continue to evaluate the waiver requests on an individual basis," an FCC spokeswoman said.

Among those asking for the FCC to push the deadline back is Thomas Wheeler, executive director of the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association, a trade group that represents most of the wireless industry in the United States. Wheeler has repeatedly asked the FCC to push the deadline back in the past several months.

With so many carriers asking for delays, some are wondering what will happen to those carriers that haven't been granted a delay and don't make the October deadline.

The FCC hasn't decided yet just how it will proceed--whether to levy fines or file lawsuits or let the carriers be, the FCC spokeswoman said.

The FCC might be powerless to really do anything, even though it does have the ability to levy fines. The Enhanced 911 program is a mandate, which is more of a policy statement, and not a law, which carries an exact punishment prescription for those that do not follow it, points out Keith Waryas, a wireless analyst with IDC.

"There is no penalty, there is no enforcement," Waryas said.

The deluge of waiver requests may be sending a message to the FCC that the technological hurdles involved in pinpointing the location of a cell phone are presenting challenges.

"I don't think it's any secret that there are still very large hurdles to overcome," said Jim Gerace, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. "I frankly believe the FCC does appreciate the challenges. This is not the case where anyone is standing around with their head in the sand. They realize what's going on."

Charles McKee, a lawyer for Sprint PCS, noted that when the deadline was set by the FCC several years ago, the commission itself acknowledged it was setting an aggressive timetable.

"It is simply a technical reality that we can't get the thing in place," he said.