Feds need to be firm with Enhanced 911

It wasn’t so long ago that knowing where you were was a survival skill.

Ina hunter and gatherer society, if you went out looking for game, youprobably wanted to know how to get back to your village or cave.Similarly, if you sailed away from shore to fish or explore, youprobably wanted to know how to get back.

In the age of Mapquestand TomTom, this is no longer the case. Unless you’re in Canada, inwhich case you probably want to know exactly where you are in case youneed to call 911.

Last week, the Canadian government said itwould be mandatory by February, 2010 for wireless carriers to implementenhanced services that would let 911 operators find callers using cellphones who don’t know where they are. This system has been mandatory inthe U.S. for three years. The CRTC plans to release more details,including cost, next month.

The difference between the U.S. andCanada is not one of technology. It’s not even a question of money.It’s all because for too long, our government has been unwilling toexercise, in this area, one of its basic functions, which is to govern.

IndustryCanada owns the wireless spectrum. You cannot operate a cell phoneservice without getting a license from the federal government. What thegovernment giveth, the government can taketh away. If it wants to, thatis.

The wireless carriers are doing what any smart businesspeople would do. Faced with a choice between using the 911 feecollected from subscribers to boost their cash flow or spend it ontechnology that would not add to the bottom line, they have exercisedthe most profitable choice. Why wouldn’t they? The federal governmenthas let them do it, unlike the U.S. government, which made it mandatoryfor its carriers to make the location-based technology available.

Lastweek’s decision was a step in the right direction, but a betterindicator will be the government’s actions a year from now. Hopefully,they won’t entertain any excuses from carriers who fail to meet theFebruary, 2010 deadline.

In an ideal world, people would payattention to their surroundings. But in the real world, some people –a small minority — get kidnapped, thrown into trunks and driven outinto the middle of nowhere. It would be nice if they could getsomething in return for the 911 fees they have been paying to theircarriers.

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