NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 38 June 20, 1998
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


ACTION ALERT: Support 911 Access From Cell Phones
Preparing for the Millennium
"Shrinkwrap" License Update
About NetAction Notes

Support 911 Access From Cell Phones

Act now to ensure emergency 9-1-1 access from all wireless telephones

Circulate this action alert through July 15, 1998

NetAction is supporting an effort by the Ad Hoc Alliance for Public Access to 911 to convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that emergency 9-1-1 service is available from wireless telephones.

Send a fax to the FCC from NetAction's fax server, at:, or write to them at the addresses listed below. Faxes and letters should be sent through July 15, 1998.

Background On The Issue

The Ad Hoc Alliance for Public Access to 911, a national group of consumer, victim rights, and related organizations, has been involved in a protracted battle with the wireless industry to open up access to 9-1-1 emergency services from wireless telephones. The Alliance is asking the Federal Communications Commission to quickly address a pervasive and insidious form of blocking 9-1-1 calls that does not allow callers to access the strongest compatible signal over any available cellular carrier when making emergency calls.

Most cellular companies provide their customers with filled-in maps that show coverage areas that do not adequately reflect the real coverage pattern for most cellular phones. In reality, the cellular service areas look like Swiss cheese. The problem of this Swiss cheese effect, or "holes" in coverage, can be critical in emergencies. Several tragic accidents and deaths have occurred as a result of victims who were unable to reach emergency services from their cellular phones because their phones could not access available signals from other cell systems when they dialed 911.

The Alliance has demonstrated that when the two existing cellular coverage areas are overlaid, most of these holes are filled in. This means that one cell company was able to find a site that filled the "hole" in the other's coverage. It is obvious that the principle cause of the "holes" problem is the reluctance of the cellular industry to incur the cost of additional cell sites.

Over four years ago the Alliance filed a petition with the FCC to require newly manufactured cell phones to select the strongest compatible channel of communication from any cell carrier whenever 9-1-1 is dialed. This petition was intended to provide the consumer with the best opportunity to complete the emergency call. The wireless industry, bloated with profits and not used to being responsive to public scrutiny, has worked to block the efforts of the Alliance so they can continue to use "public safety" as a ploy to get more subscribers to their own system while refusing to fill in the coverage holes.

Jim Conran, president of the Alliance, said "We have experienced years of obstruction and delay by the cellular industry of our strongest signal proposal. The cellular industry fails to appreciate the fact that they are using billions of dollars worth of the public's airwaves for free and that use carries with it a public service obligation. The record in this proceeding amply shows that reliance on the good faith of the cellular industry to reach an agreement concerning any regulation, even when the public safety clearly requires such regulation, has not been productive. When, as here, market place objectives subvert the public interest, government action is required. The FCC has a responsibility to adopt the rule change proposed by the Alliance that will ensure that all cell phones can send a call to 9-1-1 over the strongest available channel of communication.

The wireless industry has been gearing up to defeat the efforts of the Alliance to implement a simple change in newly manufactured cellular phones that will correct this problem for 9-1-1 calls. We need your support NOW. Please contact the FCC and tell them that you want the Commission to adopt the strongest compatible signal change as proposed by the Alliance.

To send a fax to the FCC from NetAction's fax server, visit our web site at:

Or, write to the FCC at the following address:

The Honorable William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
1919 M Street, NW
8th Floor
Washington, DC 20554

For more information on the Ad Hoc Alliance for Public Access to 911, contact Jim Conran by email at or by phone at: 510-253-1937.

Preparing for the Millennium

For several years now, information technology managers responsible for the huge computer systems operated by government and large corporations have been working diligently to solve the "Year 2000 Problem." Also known as the "Millennium bug," this "problem" is the result of a programming decision made in the early days of computers. Instead of programming the internal calendars in computers to "read" years in four-digit increments (for example, 1998), computers were programmed to read only the last two digits (for example, 98).

What this means as we approach the Millennium is that, unless the problem is fixed, most of the world's computers will "read" the year 2000 as 1900. The result will be horrendous problems for government agencies, banks, insurance companies, and countless other large and small businesses. And also for non-profit organizations.

NetAction was contacted recently by the technology manager for a large statewide nonprofit organization in California, who has been researching this issue for the past six months, and is worried that non-profit organizations aren't taking the "Year 2000 Problem" seriously. Although she asked not to be identified by name, she offered to prepare a brief article for NetAction Notes, to help non-profit organizations begin to address the "Year 2000 Problem."

"I am stunned at the lack of awareness of the problem among non-profits, and think our organizations will suffer if we don't do at least the most basic audit to ensure our critical technology systems and vendors are compliant," the technology manager said in a recent communication with NetAction. "The potential 'suffering' is not just for system failure (oh, that) but for legal liability of our officers as well; note the changes being made in the terms of D&O insurance."

Here are some relevant facts:

Seventy-five percent of U.S. small businesses are not dealing with the Year 2000 problem. Does this include your nonprofit? Do you think you're exempt because you don't have mainframe computers?


Vulnerabilities of non-profits to "Y2K" failures or malfunction include:

Think you have plenty of time to deal with it? Probably wrong again. Eighty-five percent of year 2000 project managers already admit they underestimated the time and budget required. Government and Fortune 500 companies are already facing down failures because the 18 months remaining until the immutable deadline are not enough for them to fix all their systems.

What can you do about it?

You can at least inventory your systems and decide what critical systems you have to deal with, or what vendors you need a paper trail with. You can decide not to spend a lot of time on it. You might determine, for example, that it doesn't matter to the computer programs on most of your PCs if the system date and day of week is wrong come the new millennium. But you might find out that accurate dates are essential to your accounting or payroll program. The point is, if you don't look, you'll never know how you're vulnerable: until your system fails. Then what?

Resources to help non-profit organizations prepare:

For those who want more background on this issue, NetAction's webmaster, Judi Clark, recommends two articles by David Isenberg, which are on the web at:

  • and

    One final word of advice:


    "Shrinkwrap" License Update

    In the last issue of NetAction Notes, we alerted readers to the need for consumer action to prevent the adoption of changes in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) that will exempt software purchases from traditional consumer protection laws, enable the software industry to dictate the terms of software purchases by validating "shrinkwrap" licenses, and threaten the rights of software developers to make competing programs. (See NetAction Notes No. 37, at:

    Our Action Alert noted that UCC amendments had to be approved by the American Law Institute (ALI) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) before they could be adopted by individual states, and urged consumers to contact both organizations to object to the Article 2B proposal on software licenses.

    Subsequently, the American Law Institute (ALI) considered the proposed change on May 15. Todd Paglia of the Consumer Project on Technology, reports that ALI questioned the contract formation principles of 2B and asked the drafting committee to revisit it. According to Todd, "This is a huge vote of no confidence."

    The second organization, NCCUSL, will consider Article 2B in late July, so there is still time for consumer action. Letters opposing adoption of Article 2B should be sent to:

    Mr. Gene N. Lebrun, Chair
    Professor Curtis R. Reitz, Secretary
    Mr. Bion M. Gregory, President
    National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws
    676 North St. Clair Street, Suite 1700
    Chicago, Illinois 60611
    Fax: (312) 915-0187

    About NetAction Notes

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