WASHINGTON — New Federal Communications Commission rules require that cellular phone companies complete emergency 911 calls, even if callers are traveling outside their company's service area or have let their service lapse.
The FCC action Monday essentially treats emergency 911 calls from cell phones just like the same calls from regular phones.
It clears the way for key parts of rules adopted in June 1996 to take effect. The FCC had delayed their enforcement to address industry concerns, and minor changes were made. The rules will take effect in about a week, a spokeswoman said.
"When it comes to helping people in emergency situations, we have an obligation to do all that we can to make sure that there are no impediments to their receiving help," said FCC Chairman Bill Kennard.
Millions of 911 calls are made over cellular phones.
On Thanksgiving, a couple in Missouri tried to alert authorities to a van bobbing and weaving in traffic, but they had trouble reaching 911 over their cell phone. The van eventually crashed into another vehicle, killing three people.
The story of a woman who was shot by a carjacker after she couldn't complete a 911 call on her cell phone was told last month in The Times.
The FCC's rules would ensure that 911 calls be completed when a cellular customer "roams" into areas in which his or her company does not have an agreement with the local cellular provider to carry the call. For years, those calls typically were not completed. The FCC now says that the situation is improving and that many cellular companies voluntarily give special treatment to 911 calls.
Also, people whose cellular service had lapsed could call 911 as long as the phone's "mobile identification number" had not changed, the FCC said. The identification number is generally the cellular phone number. The same would apply to cell phone owners who had never subscribed but who have an identification number.
The FCC will also require companies to complete emergency calls from phones without a mobile identification number, usually a phone that has not been activated.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2001, the FCC will require cellular companies to have technology that tells 911 dispatchers an emergency caller's location to within about 125 yards.