AT&T, Verizon, others debate liability, funding for Next-Generation 911 service

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As the nation's wireless carriers and messaging providers gear up to support text-to-911 service, they are also already staking out positions on a Next-Generation 911 service that could support a range of communication mechanisms including pictures, video and other IP-based communications.

The FCC this week announced proposed rules that will allow wireless users to send text messages to 911. The rules will require wireless carriers and over-the-top messaging providers like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Messenger and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage to support text messages to 911 and to provide bounce-back messages if the service is unavailable. As part of that effort, the nation's four largest carriers agreed to deploy a nationwide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014.

However, the FCC is also seeking comment on a Next-Generation 911 system, dubbed NG911. That system, the details of which are still being hashed out, will support a wide range of functions beyond just text messages.

In comments to the FCC, major carriers including Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA generally voiced support for a next-generation 911 system, but pointed out several issues in the implementation of such a service.

Specifically, Verizon urged the FCC to implement statewide or region-wide guidelines for the deployment of NG911 services to 911 call centers, dubbed Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). Verizon also said Congress should issue nationwide laws for liability--the carrier warned that "liability risks could potentially deter NG911 deployment or increase deployment costs in a particular state."

In its filing AT&T noted that a NG911 system will require additional funding, and that the FCC and Congress should revamp the current funding system for 911. "AT&T believes that these public safety expenses should be funded through general revenues and that the burden of making 911 service access available to everyone should be borne equally. The commission should recommend to Congress that it explore ways of addressing this funding issue."

MVNO TracFone Wireless, for its part, noted that prepaid wireless carriers need to have a clearer and more reliable mechanism for collecting 911 taxes and funds.

Finally, in its filing, T-Mobile USA called for all of the stakeholders in the 911 area to work together on standards for a NG911 system, and noted that the implementation of the service should be done in stages. "Neither T-Mobile nor any other wireless carrier can accomplish this migration on its own," the carrier said in its filing. "NG911 is more than just a new 911 system--it is an entirely new architecture with new standards that are still undergoing development, and will require the cooperation and coordination of all 911 and E911 stakeholders, including states and PSAPs.  It is also a migration that will take place in stages, rather than an all-at-once flash cut."

While most commenters agreed that the nation's 911 service, which has largely remained untouched since the 1960s, is in need of an overhaul, most noted that a NG911 service will require years of work to deploy.

For more:
- see this FCC proceeding

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