Landlines Still Around Because of 911 Myth?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For years I've been clinging to my landline service, until yesterday. The final straw? The $60.92 bill for Complete Choice Enhanced service including RingMaster, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Ring Control and a bunch of other services that I don't use, let alone understand. Not to mention the surcharges, taxes, fees – and "inside wire protection." What the hell is that?

I wasn't just paying for one line, but two. My wife and I had been telling ourselves that we needed the lines in order to have one for calls and one for faxes. She said that yesterday and I laughed. Faxes? Who sends faxes anymore?

And the only calls we were getting on the landline were from people wanting to sell us walk-in tubs, cruise vacations and time shares. Or, to notify us that our debit card from a credit union that we don't belong to had been locked. Of course, we're on the national Do Not Call List, but it seems solicitors use that as a phone book.

According to the Census Bureau, 89% of Americans had cell phones as of 2011; 71% also still had landlines. We carry our phones with us everywhere we go, so what's up with having one shackled to a kitchen counter at home?

Then my wife said, "Yeah, but what about 911 service?" Oh well, that. There is still this hang-up that people have -- that they need a landline associated to a fixed address in order to allow emergency 911 operators to know where they are in case they are unable to speak or something. That's a myth, right? Perhaps to a degree.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that over 70% of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones. But while the Commission says wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they can also be a challenge for emergency response personnel.

"Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address," the FCC says on its website. "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."

But my smart phone knows where I am. Open a map app and the little glowing blue dot will show your exact location, even if you don't have a clue. Google absolutely follows me around everywhere. You mean to tell me the 911 operator doesn't have the technology to figure out where I am? Seems so.

A new survey released by Find Me 911, a coalition of first responders and 911 operators, found that most dispatchers have difficulty locating wireless callers through the location information provided by carriers, particularly when calls are placed from indoor locations. Nearly two thirds (64%) of emergency calls are placed from indoors.

In fact, 97% of 911 call centers have received a wireless 911 call within the last year from a caller who could not tell the dispatcher his or her location. Over half (54%) of the dispatchers said that the latitude and longitude data provided by wireless carriers is "regularly" inaccurate.

The FCC is proposing requirements that wireless phone carriers provide enhanced indoor location accuracy within two years. Some providers are balking at the proposal -- requesting an additional three years to implement the improvements. Nevertheless, the new specifications aren't even that stringent -- requiring the ability to locate a cell phone signal to within about 300 yards. That means responders could be circling my neighborhood for quite a while as I'm on the floor gasping my last.

Maybe I should call the phone company back.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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