The Canadian communications regulator acted finally right if tragically late by requiring technology to be put in place enabling 9-1-1 dispatchers to trace calls from cellphones by 2010. Had Canada followed the U.S. lead of a few years ago several lives, including that of a British Columbia man who froze to death last week, could have been saved. Yet the U.S. actions only occurred also after probably avoidable tragedies.
The media, namely the Globe and Mail newspaper, played a big role in making this change. Its focus was sharp enough to penetrate the clubby world of corporations and bureaucrats in Canada, so closed and so typically Canadian and small town that it would make D.C.'s K Street open by comparison.
What makes this matter so odious is that Canada's wireless firms have been collecting from their customers 9-1-1 access fees. And for what, pray tell?
What is needed next is for IP carriers to be required to have some means of coordinating the IP addresses with the callers' actual locations such as through their billing or electric utility addresses for 9-1-1 dispatch operators. Such a solution could have prevented the death of a Calgary child; the carrier, who deeply regretted what had happened, has done so following the newspaper investigation.
In fairness to the carriers though, 9-1-1 tools should not be financially their responsibility. No more than they should pay for law enforcement of crimes committed via their services. 9-1-1, like police, fire, and EMS are public responsibilities, it has become part of the basic infrastructure that keep societies like ours functional.
The federal governments in both countries have been clearly at fault by being asleep at the switch, Canada longer than the Americans, more worrying about who is to pay than in getting on with the jobs of preventing needless suffering. They should therefore treat 9-1-1 with the priority, respect, and financing, including of enabling technologies that it deserves.
With all the money going into defending freedom these days--Canada's new fleet of C-17 jet transports make regular takeoffs and landings to and from Afghanistan-- why not take a few pennies of that wad to ensure that the citizens can enjoy that freedom?