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AT&T Wireless late on E911 plan

The company says it needs more time to install a system to locate cell phone callers who dial 911.

At&T Wireless says it needs more time to install a system to locate cell phone callers who dial 911, but promises it will be better than expected, the company said Thursday.

AT&T Wireless, along with every other carrier in the country, is supposed to begin building a system on Oct. 1 for Enhanced 911, or E911, which would allow police to locate a cell phone caller within 100 yards.

Nearly every carrier has asked for a delay in meeting the Oct. 1 start date for E911 and other timetables that the Federal Communications Commission set in 1996. In AT&T's case, it asked the FCC to give it until March 2002 to install the needed hardware and software on its wireless network.

On Thursday, AT&T Wireless spokesman Ritch Blasi said the company has decided, at the request of several law enforcement agencies, to switch the type of technology it will use in the system. The technology will give a more accurate location of a cell phone caller, Blasi said.

But it will take more time to install. Instead of having the system in place by March 2002, AT&T has now asked for the FCC's permission to have the new system in place by the end of 2002, Blasi said. AT&T also says it won't be able to start building the system Oct. 1.

Cingular made a similar request at the end of August.

An FCC spokesman said the commission is aware of the technological hurdles wireless carriers are facing and are trying to accommodate them. The spokesman said the FCC could have a decision on the dozens of waiver requests the carriers have filed as soon as next week.

Sources expect the FCC to conduct a set of rapid-fire rulings on the delay requests within the next few days, even possibly after the Oct. 1 deadline. The FCC has the power to fine carriers up to $10,000 day after Oct. 1 for noncompliance, but it has yet to indicate just what it will do.