AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon have 7-day deadline for 911 vertical location data

The three largest U.S. carriers are on a seven-day deadline to start delivering vertical location data for 911 calls nationwide under new enforceable commitments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Vertical location, also called z-axis, information is supposed to help more accurately locate wireless 911 calls that come from multi-story buildings so dispatchers know which floor to send first responders. The FCC previously adopted rules that set an April 3, 2021 deadline for carriers to do so in the largest 25 markets and certify deployment by June 2.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon in February had all asked for 18-month extensions, in part because of testing delays due to Covid-19.

The carriers each reached settlements with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

RELATED: COVID-19 delays tests for 911 location technology

Along with seven days to start providing 911 call centers with the location data, the carriers agreed to implement compliance plans and each pay $100,000.

“Six years is too long to wait for 911 vertical location information that can save lives,” said Rosenworcel in a statement. “These settlements accomplish what has evaded the agency for too long: they ensure that the FCC, public safety and wireless carriers work together to immediately start delivering this information to first responders without further delay. They also ensure that we are improving our 911 location accuracy capabilities everywhere in the country and not just in the top 25 markets.

The commission has been looking to improve 911 caller accuracy for several years, and in 2019 established a z-axis accuracy metric as plus or minus three meters from the handset for 80% of indoor wireless E911 calls.

RELATED: FCC moves to improve location accuracy of 911 callers in multi-story buildings

Since carriers didn’t feel they could deploy z-axis technology in the top 25 markets for another 18 months, there is still the question of how it will happen nationwide within one week, although full deployment looks to be further out. 

In response to questions from Fierce, Verizon Director of Corporate Communications Rich Young said that wireless customers and first responders will all benefit from the agreements announced today between the carriers and the FCC.

“While the 911 vertical location solutions were slowed by the pandemic and various technical issues not in our control, our company is diligently working with operating system developers to deliver a compliant solution that will better enable first responders to locate a person when they call 911 from a wireless device," Young stated.

Joan Marsh, AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Regulatory Relations, stated: “We have spent years and significant resources to improve 911 by providing public safety accurate latitude and longitude information to locate a caller’s address.  We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the FCC, our industry partners and public safety to help locate 911 callers in multi-story buildings by adding vertical location information that meets or exceeds accuracy benchmarks.”

Fierce also reached T-Mobile and will update this story with any new information.

Agreements with the FCC appear to push the full deployment and compliance certification deadlines out by a year, to April 3, 2022, and June 2, 2022, respectively.  FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington later issued a joint statement expressing disappointment in the deals. 

As for the seven-day timeline, the respective consent decrees say carriers “must deliver the z-axis location information that is available to it to the same Automatic Location Information (ALI) databases to which it delivers horizontal (x, y) location information.” The confidence level needs to be 90% and each carrier is required to report the margin of error in meters for all calls.

“These requirements apply everywhere [AT&T/T-Mobile/Verizon] is capable of delivering z-axis data and are not limited to the top 25 CMAs,” the decrees state. “In addition, these requirements apply regardless of whether any individual PSAP requests z-axis data.”

RELATED: T-Mobile launches LBR, NG911 for better 911 response times

Key benchmarks in the compliance plans include:

  • Within 30 days complete an initial round of testing in one CMA of the vertical location technologies the carrier plans to deploy, conducted in dense urban, urban and suburban areas.
  • Within 45 days AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon submit a joint report to the FCC with aggregated results of each carriers testing.
  • Within 75 days complete additional testing in two of the top 25 markets
  • Within 90 days a second joint report from carriers, as well as respective reports on individual testing to meet the conditions; initial progress reports describing what technologies are available for dispatchable location and floor level information (followed by biannual status reports due starting June 15, 2022, ending December 15, 2023); report data on z-axis-capable devices in carriers’ subscriber handset base or operating systems that support the technology

Article updated to include statement from AT&T. Updated to add Commissioner Carr and Simington response.