FCC commissioners today unanimously approved rules requiring commercial wireless carriers to provide improved 911 location-accuracy information, including the first rules for wireless calls made from inside a building or other facility.

Most of the 911 location-accuracy rules have language similar to the “roadmap” endorsed by the four nationwide wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile—and supported by two key public-safety organizations: the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Last week, the carriers announced amendments to the roadmap agreement in an effort to address concerns raised by critics of the proposal.

Although 911 call-takers have been able to access location information for traditional wireline emergency calls for years, no FCC rules have existed requiring carriers to provide location data for wireless 911 calls made from an indoor area. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was credited with leading many of the late negotiations that resulted in a unanimous vote, emphasized the importance of the action.

“When the unthinkable occurs, you want first responders to find you, no matter where you are, indoors or out, and no matter what kind of phone you use to make that call,” Rosenworcel said during the meeting, which was webcast. “That is why what we do here today is so critical.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai echoed this sentiment.

“Whoever you are, or wherever you are calling from, 911 has to work," Pai said. "It doesn't matter if you're in a school or a library, a hotel or a motel, an office or a government building; your call needs to go through, and emergency responders need to be able to find you."

Pai, who expressed concern with the FCC’s original action in February, said the record in the proceeding supports the notion that those proposals were “impractical and unrealistic.”

“I'm pleased that we have adjusted course and are now adopting requirements that are aggressive and achievable,” he said. “I'm also glad that the framework we're putting in place puts us on a path to providing emergency responders with what is known as a dispatchable location—that's the room, the office or the suite number where the 911 caller is located. 

“Public-safety organizations have described this as the gold standard for indoor location accuracy, because it tells first responders exactly which door they need to knock on, or—in some cases—kick in during an emergency.” 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he is pleased with the accountability thresholds included in the new location-accuracy rules.

“We have a 5-0 vote today to make sure that, as technology changes,  the expectations that technology is going to be available for public safety continues to keep pace,” Wheeler said. “This roadmap is a plan for carriers, for vendors, for public-safety officials to follow, to deliver on that kind of an expectation. 

“The other thing that it does, which is also important, is that it establishes measurement tests. It's not enough to say we're going down the road; let's know what the mile marker is, and let's make sure that we're hitting the mile markers. “