Wireless 911 Services

The number of 911 calls placed by people using wireless phones has significantly increased in recent years. It is estimated that about 70% of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones, and that percentage is growing.

For many Americans, the ability to call 911 for help in an emergency is one of the main reasons they own a wireless phone. Other wireless 911 calls come from Good Samaritans reporting traffic accidents, crimes or other emergencies. The prompt delivery of wireless 911 calls to public safety organizations benefits the public by promoting safety of life and property.

Unique Challenges Posed by Wireless Phones
While wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they also create unique challenges for emergency response personnel and wireless service providers. Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with 1 fixed location or address. While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not usually specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly.

The FCC's Wireless 911 Rules
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules aimed at improving the reliability of wireless 911 services and the accuracy of the location information transmitted with a wireless 911 call as part of our efforts to improve public safety. Such improvements enable emergency response personnel to ensure that Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) receive meaningful, accurate location information from wireless 911 callers in order to dispatch local emergency responders to the correct location and to provide assistance to 911 callers more quickly.

The FCC's wireless 911 rules apply to all wireless licensees, broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) licensees, and certain Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) licensees. Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) providers, however, are currently excluded.

The FCC's basic 911 rules require wireless service providers to transmit all 911 calls to a PSAP, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider's service or not.

Phase I
Phase I Enhanced 911 (E911) rules require wireless service providers to provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.

Phase II
Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending upon the type of location technology used.

Location Transmission
The FCC recently required wireless carriers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs. As a result, wireless carriers will be required to comply with the FCC's location accuracy rules at either a county-based or PSAP-based geographic level. The new standards apply to outdoor measurements only, as indoor use poses unique obstacles.

Filing a Complaint with the FCC
If you have a problem completing a 911 call from your wireless phone, first try to resolve the problem with your service provider. If you cannot resolve it directly, or if you think your wireless service provider is not complying with the FCC's wireless 911 requirements, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an online complaint form . You can also file your complaint with the FCC's Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, Southwest
Washington, D.C. 20554

What to Include in Your Complaint
When you open the online complaint form, you will be asked a series of questions that will take you to the particular section of the form you need to complete. If you do not use the online complaint form, your complaint, at a minimum, should indicate:
  • Your name, address, email address and phone number where you can be reached;
  • The name of the company that you're complaining about; telephone number involved, account number, date of incident and description of the problem.

For More Information
For more information about the FCC's wireless 911 rules, visit the FCC's wireless 911 website. For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau website, or contact the FCC's Consumer Center using the information provided for filing a complaint. You can also read through the Wireless 911 Services Guide (PDF).