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Small business, phone companies hung up on new 9-1-1 rules

April 5, 2016

Article courtesy MIRS News Service

The state may require businesses big and small to update their phone systems by the end of the year so 9-1-1 operators can be better pinpoint an emergency.

Under rules that have been in the works within the Michigan State Police (MSP) and Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) since 2007, businesses operating in 7,000 or more square feet of space and who have a particular phone system will be required by the end of the year to provide accurate location information when a user dials 9-1-1. Businesses and telecommunications companies originally understood the rules only to apply to spaces over 40,000 square feet. 

Businesses are bucking this new rule, saying the 7,000-square-foot limit places an unfair cost on small mom-and-pop operations who are unlikely to make the current Dec. 31 implementation date. 

“They were intending for this new, enhanced 9-1-1 to apply to very large facilities — if you picture a General Motors plant or MSU, for example — because of the size of the facility, instead of just an address popping up in phone calls to 9-1-1, it would be more useful to have a building or a more specific location, which is very laudable,” said Charlie OWENS, president of National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). 

“Since then, it’s morphed into anything more than 7,000 square feet, which is not exactly sprawling facilities. If you picture like a mom-and-pop auto parts store, you know they’ve got a front office and then they’ve probably got a warehouse full of parts. It easily gets past 7,000 square feet.” 

MPSC officials say these rules are required under the Michigan Emergency 9-1-1 Services Enabling Act of 2007 and were originally set to take effect in 2011. 

The date was pushed back to 2016 by legislative action and in that time the MPSC held a second comment period during which the State 9-1-1 Commission — an organization within the MSP — asked for clarification on the square footage threshold for implementing the new system. 

“Seven thousand square feet is the standard other states use,” said Harriet MILLER-BROWN, the state’s 9-1-1 Commission administrator. 

Miller-Brown also said that the intent of the rules is not to burden small businesses, but to help emergency personnel quickly reach a person who may dial 9-1-1, but is unable to speak, such as during a heart attack. Not all phone systems provide granular location information with the 9-1-1 call to enable first responders to know the actual location of the emergency. As a result, a call from the 12th floor of a large office building may only provide the building’s street address. 

Owens suggested that some small business may be encouraged to switch to all cell phones or to VOIP service to save on the cost of upgrading phones. 

“One of the paths of least resistance to comply to this rule, the way it’s laid out right now, is if you come in and tell me that my five-phone system is no good anymore and I have to buy a new one, I’m going to give everybody cell phone and say ‘O.K., fine,’ and then I’m not covered anymore because I don’t have a landline,” said Owens. “Can you imagine the concern of telephone companies if everyone starts switching to VOIP, which is another option.” 

“The challenge with these rules . . . is by the time you go through the promulgation process, technology has leap-frogged ahead,” added Owens. 

Scott STEVENSON, president of the Telecommunications Association of Michigan (TAM), said that compliance with these rules get more complicated with VOIP systems, which allow the phone to be moved around the office, especially as VOIP system become increasingly common among businesses. 

“All the technology that has come through since the rules were originally promulgated is a huge compliance issue for people,” said Stevenson. 

Stevenson said that his members would like to see more work on the rules. Stevenson that that compliance and implementation guidelines are not clear and so the implementation date should be pushback again. 

“Since our members provide telephone services, including 9-1-1, to business customers across the state they are getting questioned about what businesses need to do and nobody can answer that question,” Stevenson said. 

Stevenson said that TAM submitted questions the State 9-1-1 Commission “from the most basic questions to more detailed questions” in February and “have not gotten a single response, yet.” 

Miller-Brown indicated that although the Commission cannot advise on the specifics of implementation, they have put out a guide on the rule that includes a “reference list” of service providers that “may be able to assist” with implementation.

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