More Regulation to Cement 40-Year-Old 911 Service

Back in 2005, the FCC gave providers of voice-over-internet service a mandate to, within a very short time frame, link all of their customers to 911 call centers. This in spite of VOIP’s growth even without 911 service. But some VOIP providers had trouble meeting the FCC deadline, because of resistance by the telephone companies that run the government-granted-monopoly 911 service. The telephone companies did not want competition from VOIP and 911 service was one remaining benefit they held over VOIP. Now, Congress is about to pass a bill that will mandate that the telephone companies grant enhanced 911 access to VOIP users.

To those familiar with Washington, the situation is familiar: using new regulation to try to fix problems caused by earlier regulation coupled with an earlier government-granted monopoly.

Had government stayed out of mandating 911 in the first place, we could have a much better system today than the antiquated local call centers invented in the 1960s. Imagine pressing a button on your cell phone (perhaps different buttons for police, ambulance, and fire), which directs your carrier to your location (using GPS or wireless tower triangulation) and then dispatches whatever service you need immediately. It could even notify a list of “emergency contacts” you provide your carrier and perhaps read your insurance information to send you to the right hospital. All of this could be much more efficient and reliable than the 40-year-old system we have today. Instead of mandating that VOIP be hooked up to an antiquated emergency response system, government should end the 911 monopoly and let the market experiment with emergency service response.