Short for Enhanced 911, a location technology advanced by the FCC that will enable mobile, or cellular, phones to process 911 emergency calls and enable emergency services to locate the geographic position of the caller. When a person makes a 911 call using a traditional phone with ground wires, the call is routed to the nearest public safety answering point (PSAP) that then distributes the emergency call to the proper services. The PSAP receives the caller's phone number and the exact location of the phone from which the call was made. Prior to 1996, 911 callers using a mobile phone would have to access their service providers in order to get verification of subscription service before the call was routed to a PSAP. In 1996 the FCC ruled that a 911 call must go directly to the PSAP without receiving verification of service from a specific cellular service provider. The call must be handled by any available service carrier even if it is not the cellular phone customer's specific carrier. Under the FCC's rules, all mobile phones manufactured for sale in the United States after February 13, 2000, that are capable of operating in an analog mode must include this special method for processing 911 calls.
The FCC has rolled out E911 in two phases. In 1998, Phase I required that mobile phone carriers identify the originating call's phone number and the location of the signal tower, or cell, accurate to within a mile. In 2001, Phase II required that each mobile phone company doing business in the United States must offer either handset- or network-based location detection capability so that the caller's location is determined by the geographic location of the cellular phone within 100 meter accuracy and not the location of the tower that is transmitting its signal. The FCC refers to this as Automatic Location Identification (ALI).
E911 Strategies Slow to Ignite
While the location technology mandate is designed to help rescue agencies save lives, concerns over privacy issues have arisen -- the same systems could be used to track an individual's every move for purposes as diverse as targeted marketing or establishing grounds for divorce.