For Next Generation Emergency Calling, "Punishment" Must Fit the Crime

If you have been in the telecom business for a long a time, you might have encountered, in discussions about emergency calling issues, quips that go something like “we spend 70 percent of our time dealing with an issue that is a cost of doing business, not the business.”

That’s an exaggeration for most people whose responsibilities do not directly concern emergency calling operations.

But the gist remains: an essential part of operating a communications business entails dealing with lots of other issues that are a necessary part of the business, but actually cost money and take lots of time.

And 911 emergency calling is that sort of issue. What is different now is that emergency calling now occurs in a context where fewer people actually use the fixed network for calling, where most people rely on mobiles for voice, and where revenue actually is driven by all sorts of services other than “calling.”

Without minimizing the importance of issues related to emergency calling, all effort there is expended on a shrinking, soon to be “very small” revenue source.

Also, at least for the moment, that effort is expended on multiple networks, one of which--the copper access network--is supporting fewer and fewer customers all the time.

Voice--and emergency calling--remains a key function for a communications network, if increasingly not its revenue underpinning.

And that raises a larger, tough to solve issue: how much capital and time should be spent supporting even vital functions on multiple networks that will not be sustainable for much longer?

Yes, the essential emergency calling feature has to be supported on new IP and optical networks. But that also occurs in a context where most calling happens on the mobile networks, and revenue is not driven by voice on any of the future networks.

The point is that “proportionality” is important. Proportionality is a concept dealing with fairness and justice under law. As applied to criminal law, proportionality is the idea that the punishment of an offender should fit the crime.

Under international law, proportionality is the concept that the legal use of force in an armed conflict should be bounded.

In European Union law, for example, proportionality requires that there must be a legitimate aim for a measure.

The measure also must be suitable to achieve the aim. The measure must be necessary to achieve the aim, that there cannot be any less onerous way of doing it.

The measure must be reasonable.

Dealing with next-generation emergency calling must be “proportional,” one might argue. It is a legitimate objective, but the measures to achieve the objective must be suitable, not onerous, reasonable and effective.
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