Canadians will soon be able to stream videos of a car crash, text photos of a suspected thief or send personal medical information to 911 instead of dialling the three digits to speak to an operator.
All telephone and wireless providers must update their networks to offer next-generation 911 services by the end of 2020 in regions with already established public safety answering points, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandated in a decision released Thursday.
Incumbent telephone companies BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and SaskTel will be responsible for constructing, operating and maintaining these networks, which will transition to Internet protocol technology so people can more easily send photos, videos or other information that would help emergency responders.
“As new capabilities become available, we must ensure that Canada’s emergency system adapts,” CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement, adding that numerous parties including Public Safety Canada need to work together to make this happen efficiently.
“We have done our part to get the ball rolling. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments need to work with their regional emergency call centres and plan ahead for this important transition,” Blais said.
The first step in the transition requires the CRTC and the telephone companies to establish the networks. Next, emergency call centres must work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to update their operations to handle the new system.
The CRTC acknowledged that new tariffs will be required along with the existing 911 tariffs in order to fund the deployment and the operation of the next-generation 911 networks.
Cable companies including Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc. and Videotron — all of which buy wholesale access to the incumbent telephone operators’ 911 services — argued existing rates should be reviewed since it has been nearly 20 years since the last cost review. But the decision stated rates “do not represent a significant burden” on customers since they have declined per user over the years and represent “good value.”
The CRTC does, however, plan to collect and report information on how much revenue telecoms receive for providing 911 and next-generation 911 services starting in 2018.
The CRTC also emphasized a coordinated launch and public awareness campaign is needed for next-generation 911 so as to avoid consumer confusion, which could have public safety consequences.
As it stands, text messages sent from the general public to 911 don’t reach emergency services. Text with 911 is widely available to Canadians who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impairments.