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Phone Rules Could Be ‘Devastating’ For Businesses If Not Changed

April 23, 2019

When there’s an emergency — a heart attack, a fire, an active shooter — dispatchers automatically get an address of where the 911 call is coming from. But in larger facilities, they won’t know where in the building the call is coming from.

In a hotel, they won’t know what floor it’s on. In a school, the address might be for the district’s administrative offices. It’s an even bigger problem when the caller, for whatever reason, can’t talk or is too distraught or confused to give his or her location.

Legislation to fix the problem, requiring multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) to provide more information to dispatchers about the precise location about the individual device being used to make the call, was passed back in 2007 but the effective date has been pushed back twice because of complications in rulemaking.

Still, if it were to go into effect as it is now, on Dec. 31 as scheduled, the costs could be so expensive for small businesses, churches, and nonprofits as to be “devastating,” according to Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland).

The law would apply even if they recently replaced phones but the newer system did not meet the law’s requirements, according to Charles OWENS of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).

Rep. Michele Hoitenga’s (R-Manton) HB 4249, taken up Wednesday in the House Communications and Technology Committee, would push back the effective date one more time, to Dec. 31, 2020, and provide an exemption for smaller facilities including businesses, churches, local governments, and schools.

Under the substitute discussed Wednesday, the buildings with less than 20,000 square feet and fewer than 20 phones would not have to meet the requirement until they replace their phone systems.

“We are trying to fill the gap where a person cannot adequately describe where they are and the 911 dispatch needs to automatically identify that. And that is a very noble thing to do. It is a big deal for hospitals. It is a big deal for hotels. It is a big deal for multi-story buildings because when you call from a seven-story building on a cell phone, they don’t know what floor you’re on. They might be able to figure what building you are in but they aren’t going to know what floor or what room,” said Dan Hamstra, Director of Telecommunications at Andrews University.

He noted the law only applies to landlines but pointed out that 70 percent of emergency calls these days are being made from cell phones.

“From the poorly written legislation, it could potentially make things less safe. How could that be? . . . If you are a church with five phones spread around that facility . . . I might just decide I’m just going to pull out those two courtesy phones because I don’t want the hassle of doing this,” Hamstra said.

Johnson said businesses, churches, and small nonprofits don’t have thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands, in extra cash.

“A lot of them can’t afford it, so what are they going to do? They are going to pull the plug. They are going to take their phones out and they are going to disconnect them. And now everyone is going to be using cellphones,” Johnson said.

He noted dispatchers prefer callers use landlines because the location information is better.

The bill also takes rulemaking authority on this issue away from the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

“We gave rulemaking authority, which is essentially law-making authority, to the PSC, and they kind of went too far. I think most people agree, they went too far on this and the problem is they are not accountable to the voters,” Johnson said.

Hoitenga, chair of the Communications and Technology Committee, plans to call a vote on the bill next week to refer her bill to the Ways and Means Committee.

“It is a very good feeling to know that something so contentious when we started has ended up with everyone being neutral,” she said. “This is a huge win for both businesses and first responders.”

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