Revamp of 911 Rules on Docket for FCC September Open Meeting

At the next open meeting on September 26th, the FCC Commissioners will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) aimed at improving the nation’s 911 system and Americans’ ability to access emergency services. The proposed rule changes are largely intended to implement directives from Congress in two bills that were signed into law earlier this year. Importantly, the proposed rules will apply not only to traditional providers of telecommunications service, but also equipment manufacturers and other vendors in the communications supply chain, as well as businesses and other entities that operate communications systems that allow users to dial 911. Given the potentially broad reach of these proposed rules, we encourage our readers to monitor this proceeding carefully and be prepared to offer feedback to the FCC on proposed changes that will impact your business.

Kari’s Law

Kari’s Law was signed into law on February 16, 2018 and is intended to make it easier for individuals to dial 911 from multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”), which are commonly found in office buildings, hotels and campuses. The law was named for Kari Hunt, whose daughter tried to call 911 from a hotel room while Kari was being attacked, but did not get through because she was required first to dial “9” to access an outside line before entering 911.

To implement Kari’s Law, the NPRM proposes the following:

  1. Prohibiting individuals and entities from manufacturing, importing, selling, leasing, installing, managing, or operating MLTS unless they are configured such that a user can dial 911 from the MLTS directly without having to dial any additional digits or prefixes;
  2. Requiring MLTS to automatically transmit a notification to a front desk, security office, or other location within the organization where the MLTS is installed whenever a 911 call is made.
  3. Interpreting MLTS to include “the full range of networked communications systems that serve enterprises, including circuit-switched and IP-based enterprise systems, as well as cloud-based IP technology and over-the-top applications.”
  4. As a result, the proposed rules would impact not only traditional wireline systems installed in large buildings and campuses, but also newer, IP-based communications solutions.

RAY BAUM’s Act requires the FCC to consider adopting rules to ensure that the ‘dispatchable location’ of a calling party is conveyed with a 911 call, regardless of the technological platform used. In response to this directive, the NPRM asks whether rule changes are necessary to ensure that communications service providers (including fixed telephony, mobile carriers, and interconnected VoIP providers) are conveying sufficient information, such as the calling party’s street address as well as room number, floor number, or similar data necessary to help first responders reach the calling party quickly. It further asks whether the FCC should adopt 911 obligations for “any other communications services that are not covered by existing 911 rules but provide the capability for users to make a 911 call.”

Consolidating the FCC’s 911 Rules

Finally, the FCC proposes to depart from its “service-by-service approach to establishing 911 obligations” and instead consolidate its 911 rules under a single part of the FCC’s regulations. The FCC suggests that consolidation will simplify and streamline the rules and help minimize the compliance burden for smaller entities.

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Initial comments on the proposals in the NPRM will likely be due in mid- to late-November, depending on when the item is published in the Federal Register, and reply comments will be due one month after that.