Key lawmakers dial up the action on enhanced 911 bill

Legislation would enable emergency dispatchers to identify the address, name and phone number of callers who use an Internet-based phone service

Legislation designed to pave the way for wider use of enhanced 911 technology, which would enable emergency dispatchers to identify the address, name and phone number of callers who use Internet-based phone service, is being readied in both chambers, according to government and industry sources.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Senate Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye was coordinating with ranking member Ted Stevens and one of the authors of the measure, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to "hot line" the bill in the Senate by circulating it among members to see if anyone objects to its passage, these sources said.

The timing of any floor action remained unclear Tuesday, with several sources expecting Senate action next week and a few predicting a vote this week. While prospects for passage appear strong, they said the measure could stall if just one senator voices an objection or places a hold on it.

Staff negotiators from the Senate Commerce Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee recently agreed on a final draft, drawn from separate measures by Nelson and Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and culminating more than three years of legislative wrangling.

"I think we've finally found a sweet spot where we can get it done," said a Senate Commerce aide, echoing the sentiment of other sources.

"My bill will provide for the modernization of the nation's 911 system, and I'm glad the House and Senate are ready to move it forward in the coming weeks," Gordon said in a statement. "This bill will ensure new and emerging technologies such as Internet phones, video and text messaging can connect to the nation's existing 911 system," he added, calling the measure a "tremendous victory for public safety."

The bill would require the provision of E911 service where feasible, guarantee interconnection rights for carriers using the technology and extend liability protections to emergency personnel handling the calls.

If the bill clears the Senate, it would move to the House for consideration, most likely on the suspension calendar.

A potential roadblock was language in Gordon's version that restricted access to 911 records for emergency purposes. The language was designed to prevent Verizon and other telecommunications firms that oversee 911 databases for themselves and competitors from using the information for business purposes.

Verizon and the U.S. Telecom Association argued that carriers should be permitted to glean information from the databases to bolster petitions seeking regulatory relief from the FCC. But sources said the controversial section was dropped at the request of Senate negotiators, who were worried about the germaneness of the restrictions and wanted a clean bill that would pass easily.