Verizon blasts Find Me 911 Coalition report on 911 location data

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) hit back hard against the Find Me 911 Coalition, arguing to the FCC that the group was spreading "misleading" information about how often Verizon provides the most precise location information needed for dispatchers and first responders to find callers. Verizon told the FCC that it "does not take lightly such allegations and undertook an internal review of its own performance data in response to the claims."

Specifically, Verizon blasted data that the Find Me 911 Coalition recently highlighted that found that only 10.3 percent of the wireless calls made to the D.C. Office of Unified Communications from December 2012 to July 2013 included the latitude-longitude needed to find a caller. According to the report, Verizon Wireless provided "Phase II" location information 24.6 percent of the time. (Phase I location data shows the nearest cell tower, while Phase II location data includes the more precise latitude and longitude of a caller.) Find Me 911 said it obtained its data through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Verizon said that the 24.6 percent figure is "patently misleading." In fact, Verizon wrote in a July 25 filing, Verizon "provided location data derived from its 'Assisted-GPS' Phase II solution to the PSAP for 84 percent of 911 calls in the District." The idea that it only did so for only a quarter of the calls is "not supported by the facts," Verizon wrote.

Verizon noted that its Phase II solution uses three methods to figure out the caller's location: GPS satellites (which it called the most accurate); a hybrid of GPS and Advanced Forward Link Trilateration ("GPS-AFLT"); and AFLT alone. The carrier said "80 percent of 911 calls with Phase II information  (i.e. approximately two-thirds of the total 911 calls) provided either a GPS or hybrid GPS-AFLT fix, with the remaining 20 percent (approximately 17% of the total 911 calls) an AFLT fix."

The company said it was limited to delivering only Phase I location information for 16 percent of calls, not 75 percent.

The Find Me 911 Coalition is headed by Jamie Barnett, a former chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Barnett is also a partner at Washington law firm Venable LLP and is the co-chair of Venable's Telecommunications Group. The group represents 911 operators and first responders, including emergency medical services personnel, fire fighters and police.

TruePosition, a company that sells location services to wireless carriers, provided the initial funding for the Find Me 911 Coalition. And TruePosition in the past has clashed with wireless carriers including AT&T. However, the Find Me 911 group has said that it advocates technology-neutral requirements, and also is supported by 200,000 911 professionals and public safety officers.

Barnett said in a statement that he "can understand why the wireless carriers are lashing out: their 911-location accuracy is embarrassing. Remember, this is data that was given to the FCC by the D.C. Unified Communications Center based on its experience over that time period. It is completely consistent with data from elsewhere in the nation."

"The facts may be inconvenient, but they are not inaccurate. This data was provided by the D.C. government to the FCC, at the request of the FCC, and it's supported by similar data from across the country and a survey of more than 1,000 PSAP professionals in all 50 states showing that PSAPs are not getting the accurate and timely location data they need to find callers," he said. "That's why 99% of 911 professionals in the field support the FCC's proposed rule to improve wireless 911 location accuracy, and 97% oppose any delay in the two-year implementation for the rule. The 200,000 supporters of Find Me 911 in the public safety community urge the FCC to adopt the rule as drafted, so 911 professionals can better find callers and save lives."

In addition to its comments on delivering the Phase II location information, Verizon also added that it delivers such information "in a timely fashion." Verizon said it is "typically able to deliver Phase II location information well within a 20 second duration after the 911 caller hits 'send.' In fact, in the District during the 2013 period covered by the FindMe911 report, that duration was only 11 seconds on average. So if the PSAP were to perform a follow-up retrieval within the standard 20-30 second period after the 911 call is first received, as many PSAPs successfully do, Phase II information would have been available to it for the vast majority of Verizon Wireless 911 calls in the District, either with the initial retrieval that occurs when the 911 call first arrives or with a follow-up retrieval at 20-30 seconds."

Wireless carriers argue that data showing poor rates of sending Phase II location data do not account for what is known as "re-bids," or when 911 operators need to refresh the location data they have in order to get the best results, which can take more time. If the re-bids were included, the Phase II numbers would look better, carriers have argued. AT&T, for instance, has said it actually provides Phase II location data 99 percent of the time, but that it can take 30 seconds or longer to do so because of re-bids.

Verizon also took to task a Washington Post report on the Coalition's data. Verizon said the report's "explanation that the PSAP retrieval 'starts a process that can run for as long as 30 seconds while the phone tries to acquire a line-of-sight connection with an orbiting GPS satellite' erroneously implies that the retrieval process will somehow delay the carrier's own location solution and delivery of Phase II data."

In fact, Verizon wrote, "the carrier's location determination process is initiated with the 911 call and continues thereafter, regardless of whether the PSAP has initiated a follow- up retrieval. Thus, as long as a carrier has delivered its Phase II data to the Mobile Positioning Center before the PSAP's follow-up retrieval occurs, it will be available to the PSAP at that time as described immediately above, not 30 seconds later."

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

Related Articles:
FCC data shows 9 out 10 911 calls from cell phones in D.C. did not have accurate location info
AT&T blasts TruePosition's 911 testing as 'ill-considered' and 'half-baked'
Indoor-location technology is not ready for E911 use, argues TIA
Text-to-911 set to go live by May 15
Some 911 operators aren't getting cell phone location data - who is to blame?

Correction, July 28, 2014: This article incorrectly stated the number of professionals who support the Find Me 911 Coalition; it is 200,000. The article also incorrectly referred to a Find Me 911 Coalition report on 911 location data in Washington, D.C.; the Coalition was highlighting data provided to the FCC that had been made public through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Article updated July 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET with comment from the Find Me 911 Coalition.