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Schumer: FCC should lead technology upgrade for 911 centers

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference in New York City on March 2, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The Federal Communications Commission should take a lead role in implementing technology improvements at 911 call centers to include text, video and photos, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, Schumer urged the agency to bring together phone carriers, state and local governments and 911 call centers to speed the process of implementing a newer system called “Next Generation 911” that can handle information sent from smartphones.

“Everyone says they’re working on it, but it’s still not done,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “No one can quite figure out why it’s taking so long because it’s clear that the capability is there.”

Schumer said the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, earlier this month showed why newer systems are needed. He said that victims and survivors in the Pulse nightclub where 49 people were shot to death were able to send text messages to their friends and families, but not to police.

“We should get it done already,” Schumer said.

FCC rules require wireless phone carriers to provide text to 911 service within six months of receiving a request from a 911 call center. Schumer said that basic text capability isn’t enough, and that video and photo capability should also be included. Wheeler is a proponent of the new technology, calling for “an all-out effort to accelerate” its implementation in a Feb. 23 news release.

Suffolk County expects to have its Next Generation 911 system up and running next year, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said Sunday.

“We build the infrastructure, the carriers come on board, they have to provide text capability,” Sini said. The new system, largely being funded by 911 surcharges on cellphone calls, will be capable of handling videos, photos and files send via text message, he said. Whether the carriers will agree to allow more data than simple text messages to go through the system is something that still has to be worked out, he said.

Nassau County and New York City officials did not respond to requests for comment Sunday on 911 improvements.

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