Five Fundamentals for the Phone Network, Part 5: Public Safety

March 27, 2013 ,

This is the final post in our series explaining Public
Knowledge’s five fundamental principles for the transition of our phone network to IP-based technology. We’ve already
discussed service to all Americans,
interconnection and competition,
consumer protection,
and network reliability.
Today we’ll dive into the last (but not least) of the five principles: public

At this point most U.S. residents take for granted that they
will be able to rely on the 9-1-1 system to call for help during an emergency. The
public interest benefits of 9-1-1 service are fairly obvious—this is, after
all, one part of the phone system that involves literally life-or-death
situations. Regardless of the progress of the phone network upgrade or future market
trends, one thing is clear: a person’s ability to call for emergency aid when
they need it most cannot depend on whether the network that person uses is
wireless or wireline, copper or fiber, or utilizing TDM or IP technology.

During the transition, the main goal for public safety
should be to make sure that the network continues to help emergency
communications reach their intended destinations quickly, and to seek out ways
that the newer IP-based technology can enhance 9-1-1 or other emergency

This means that, for example, we must ensure that alarm
systems and alarm system standards that rely on access to a traditional
“telephone line” to function won’t be needlessly disrupted when the lines begin using
newer IP technology. And in addition to maintaining the continued functions
made possible by the traditional network technology, we must seek out
opportunities for IP-based technology to help more users reach emergency
responders more easily, quickly, and efficiently.

On the federal level, the Commission has already begun
looking to the future of our public safety protections with the Next Generation
9-1-1 transition. It’s important, though, to consider public safety in the broader
context of the network upgrade.

When we consider new capabilities made possible by IP
technology, we must think through what impact those functions will have on the
other fundamental principles underlying the network. For example, geolocation
technology that helps emergency response to 9-1-1 calls made from mobile phones necessarily impacts consumer privacy. As we move forward with the
transition, it’s crucial that we take time to think through these issues and
make any necessary trade-offs between values thoughtfully and deliberately.

It’s exactly this tendency for particular issues to impact
multiple fundamental values underlying the phone network that makes it crucial
for us to create a solid, principled framework to guide us through the transition
of the phone network. As each new issue, challenge, or opportunity arises, we
can then use our framework to evaluate all of the potential benefits and

At the end of the day, the values we hold to most firmly
will be the ones that guide and inform the decisions we ultimately make. The
transition of the phone network promises to be extraordinarily important and
amazingly complex. If local, state, and federal regulators hope to guide this
transition in a way that will create the best possible results for users, they
must establish a framework of fundamental principles that will help them
navigate the waters as we move deeper into the transition.

Public Knowledge will continue following this issue and
advocating for consumers based on the Five Fundamentals we’ve outlined in this
blog post series. The phone network’s technology may be changing, but our
social needs and goals remain the same.

Click here to sign the petition supporting a universally
affordable, reliable, and available phone system regardless of the underlying