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911 is Free on Right Cellular Frequency

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DURHAM — If you have the right service and you're on the right band, a 911 call is free. Many people probably aren't aware that you could buy a cell phone, for example, at a flea market. Even without a contract, you could use the phone to call 911 without ever paying a dime.

A group of workers are in the air conditioning business. But they go to every service call packing a cell phone. The boss admits he doesn't have deep pockets. So how does he pay for cell phones for 75 workers?

"See, the phone doesn't work," David Hopkins explains. "But if you dial 911, it does. They can't dial me on a cellular phone, but 911 they can dial. That's a good deal."

It's a deal that's available to just about everyone. There's an A and B band on every cell phone. If you program in the B band, you can make the 911 call, even if you don't have a service contract. Not every carrier with connect a 911 call for free. 360 Communications is one service in the Triangle that provides the free service.

360 regional manager Dave Mangum says they won't block calls on their network regardless of whether or not the caller is a 360 customer. He also emphasizes that calling 911 is theonlything they can do.

The FCC has ordered cellular providers to take another step-- make it possible for 911 dispatchers to get a readout of cellular caller's number and location.

"Having the number would help," explains 911 dispatcher Charles McKinney, "so at least we could call the people back. Now we have no way of doing it. Surprisingly, many cellular operators don't know their own number."

Dispatchers getting a readout of the number and the nearest cell tower is still several years away. But, you can get through free to 911 now. Most cellular providers can tell you how to get on the right frequency to do it.