FCC Publishes Notice of Inquiry Seeking Comment on Next Generation Emergency Assistance “NG911” Applications and System Architecture

January 14, 2011
Comment Sought on Issues Potentially Affecting Many Entities Presently Not Involved In 911 Service, Including: Social Media Websites, ASPs, ISPs, Equipment Manufacturers & Software Developers

Comments due February 28, 2011 / Reply comments due March 14, 2011

Acknowledging that existing telephone circuit-based 911 and E911 systems have become “antiquated” and offer diminishing utility, the Commission issued a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) that seeks comment on the features and functionality necessary to ensure an effective and accessible next generation IP-based 911 system (“NG911”). Comments received in response to this NOI will help shape NG911 obligations and standards that affect both traditional telecommunications service providers, and likely extend them to application providers and others such as social networking sites.

The release of this NOI signals the beginning of what the Commission expects to be a “gradual” multi-year transition from circuit-based 911 systems to IP-based NG-911 systems. Although the in-field transition to NG911 is likely to be gradual, we anticipate that this proceeding will move more quickly than most at the Commission given the strong bipartisan support to move quickly on NG911 implementation.     

Among other things, comment is sought on the following:


  • What types of media should NG911 support? (e.g., message-based text, real-time text, still images (photos), real-time video, telemetry data and auxiliary medial and personal data)?
  • What types of media are likely to become the “primary” means of communication between individuals requiring emergency assistance and NG911 networks, and should NG911 systems be required to support such media? Although the NOI tentatively concludes that “primary” forms of media “will likely include voice, real-time text and text-based messaging”, it also seeks comment on the extent to which email and social-networking websites might serve as a “primary” medium for communicating with NG911 networks. 
  • What types of media and devices will persons with disabilities likely use to communicate with an NG911 network?

Network Architecture

Responsibility for existing 911 service is split between the caller’s underlying telephone provider(s) and Public Safety Answering Points (“PSAPs”) that receive the inbound emergency call and coordinates a response. NG911 communications will likely involve a variety of new entities, some of which may have little or no involvement in the carriage of the emergency communication between the distressed party and the PSAP or NG911 operator. The NOI seeks comment on the extent to which NG911 obligations should be expanded to these new entities, including:

  • What IP-enabled devices (e.g., televisions, tablet computers, game consoles, etc.) should have NG911 functionality?
  • What roles/obligations should the following potential NG911 participants assume:
    • How should Virtual Storage Providers (“VSPs”) and Application Service Providers (“ASPs”) assist in call/message identification and routing?
    • What location provisioning responsibilities should residential ISPs assume?
    • What location provisioning responsibilities should non-traditional ISPs (hotels, coffee shops, etc…) assume?
    • What roles/responsibilities should apply to enterprise IP-PBXs, which can assume many of the functions of a traditional telephone company?
    • What roles/responsibilities should apply to UE vendors?
    • What requirements should apply to communication software developers creating applications that may have “primary” or “secondary” NG911 uses?
  • What location provisioning responsibility should apply to home gateway manufacturers?
    What interoperability standards should apply to NG911 enabled devices, and how should these standards be established and implemented?

Specialized NG911 Applications

The Commission seeks comment on a number of potential specialized applications, including:

  • Device-Initiated Services. To what extent should NG911 systems be capable of interacting with inbound communications from automated devices (e.g., environmental sensors, security cameras, etc.)?
    Social Media. What role should social media applications play in NG911?   
  • Auxiliary Data. NG911 presents an opportunity for first responders to collect additional information en route to an emergency (e.g., patient medical history, building floor plans, etc.). How should NG911 systems be informed about the availability of this data, and does the collection and distribution of this data require regulation?

Implementation/Transition Issues

The Commission seeks comment on a number of implementation issues, including:

  • Liability Concerns. New liability issues arise if errors occur during the transmission or sharing of data (e.g., first responders receiving an inaccurate medical history). How should the Commission balance the benefits of increased information sharing with the potential for errors?
  • Confidentiality & Privacy Concerns. What regulations or standards might be necessary to ensure that sensitive personal information shared during an emergency assistance incident remains confidential/private? 
  • Location Capabilities. NG911 potentially decouples the service provider and network operator. What regulations or standards are appropriate to ensure real-time location information remains available to first responders? How can stationary, nomadic, and mobile end systems in non-cellular wireless networks (e.g., Wi-Fi, TV White Spaces, etc.) reliably discover and convey their locations to NG911 system operators? 
  • Data Security. What regulations or standards are required to ensure that data is securely transmitted and access is limited to authorized entities? What additional security concerns does the implementation of NG911 raise?

If you have questions regarding this NOI or require assistance preparing comments, please contact the following lawyers in our Telecommunications, Media & Technology Group:

Andrew D. Lipman, Partner, 202.373.6033

Ronald W. Del Sesto, Jr., Partner, 202.373.6023

This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.