Older cellphones losing 911 access

Federal changes that allow cellular telephone service carriers to abandon their analog networks may

Federal changes that allow cellular telephone service carriers to abandon their analog networks may be of particular concern to senior citizens and crime victims who have received older cellphones for emergency use under donated phone programs.

More than 1 million cellular-phone users in the United States may have already lost access to 911, according to the National Emergency Number Association. The FCC last week stopped requiring providers to support analog cellphones.

Locally, the decision is prompting at least one county sheriff to advise seniors and other recipients of donated cellphones that are programmed to dial emergency dispatchers to consult any phone service providers.

In Johnstown, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey said phone users can check with their service provider if they’re unsure if their phone is analog or digital.

He said it’s likely that a small number of people will be affected by the switch but even one missed 911 call is still one too many.

“I think there are still some out there from when we started the programs where we gave out older phones,” he said.

“I would hate to have seniors feel they’re safe when they’re not safe,” Lorey added.

NENA said AT&T Mobility, Alltel, Cellular One, Dobson, US Cellular and Verizon Wireless are among the carriers that have received permission from the Federal Communications Commission to abandon their analog networks.

According to NENA spokesman Patrick Halley, most cellphones that are over five years old are analog.

Digital phones are not affected, nor are customers of Sprint-Nextel or T-Mobile. People who have phones with text or instant messaging, Internet browsing capability, an MP3 player, camera or a SIM card have digital equipment, according to NENA.

The agency said anyone who isn’t sure should go to a local cellphone store to have it inspected.

In Albany, Thomas A. Mitchell, counsel to the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said that the issue has a low profile in the state. He said the state’s 911 board meets quarterly and members of the board and the association said they aren’t aware of any problem.

“The issue has not come up on a statewide basis,” Mitchell said.

Lorey’s office did an analysis of calls for service and found last year that nearly half of all emergency 911 calls came in via cellphone.

Wireless emergency and service calls are on the rise, Lorey said, and he expects the trend to continue.

“I think the trend is going away from hard-line phones,” the sheriff said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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