Discarded cell phones still must be able to call 9-1-1 even if the owner is no longer paying for wireless service. The federal government wants to end that nearly 20-year-old rule as part of a proposal that’s stirring debate across the country, including in Florida.
The Federal Communications Commission says 9-1-1 capability on otherwise unusable phones is no longer necessary given the proliferation of low-cost wireless plans. It also contends problems the rule has created for emergency call centers appear to outweigh the benefits.
“The record suggests that fraudulent calls to 9-1-1 from (such) devices constitute a large and continuing drain on public safety resources and that the problem is not abating,” the agency wrote in May when announcing the proposed change.
Prank calls have been a problem in Florida, especially in heavily populated areas where it’s difficult to precisely identify who’s making the call or where it originates.
Lee County in Southwest Florida receives two to six fraudulent calls per day on cell phones with no wireless service and it takes up to four hours on average to identify the caller. Most of those prank calls originate from the same phones and occur repeatedly as a harassment either to law enforcement or to an unidentified subject known to the caller, county officials wrote to the FCC.
Even so, the perpetrator is seldom caught because technology can help identify the general neighborhood where someone is calling from but often not the address, said Rob Farmer, director of the Lee County Department of Public Safety.
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