Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Advances in technology put rural 911 at risk

California firefighter Randy MacDonald testified on Capitol Hill last week that advances in technology, particularly in rural areas, are making the 911 system "harder to use [and] less reliable and interfering with critical lifesaving features like enhanced 911, which provides dispatchers with the caller’s location," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "The deficiencies are the result of changes in communications technology, which sees telecommunications companies and consumers moving to cell phones and Internet calling services instead of traditional copper wire systems that have been around for a century or more."

MacDonald, testifying at the event coordinated by the National Rural Assembly, the Rural Broadband Policy Group, and Public Knowledge, suggested three things Congress should consider for its telecommunications policy: "Put public safety first; ensure that new digital networks are at least as sturdy and reliable as the old copper-wire system; and do a better job of informing Americans that expanded choices in telecommunications can also make them more vulnerable during emergencies."

In many states, "phone companies have gotten state legislatures to eliminate or reduce state regulations on the old copper-line systems that people have relied on for generations," Marema writes. Kentucky filmmaker Mimi Pickering told Marema, “Rural Kentuckians are worried about what will happen during power outages, which are frequent and often long-lasting occurrences. Internet and wireless phones don’t work without electricity, or they operate on batteries which must be charged. Landlines have been our lifeline during these critical situations.”

Whitney Kimball Coe of the National Rural Assembly said consumer education needs to be a priority, Marema writes. Coe said that 75 percent of rural respondents to an informal survey didn’t know what kind of technology their phone used. (Read more)

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