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RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

The RBOCs now appear to be playing ball with VOIP providers on E911, but for a price (see VOIP 911 Still Trails Wireline).

SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) has been in negotiations with Vonage Holdings Corp. over the past two weeks, Light Reading has learned, while Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) Tuesday announced an E911 trial with VOIP providers, including Vonage, for this summer.

Verizon says it has been working with various VOIP providers and vendors on a generic interface between a VOIP network and the public E911 system. The interface will allow 911 calls originating on VOIP networks to be automatically routed to one of the two Public Safety Access Points (PSAPs) in New York City.

As the incumbent LEC, Verizon owns the pipe to the public E911 system and can sell access to other service providers in New York.

“Once it is up and running, we’ll be taking discreet steps to make it available elsewhere,” says Verizon spokesperson Mark Marchand. Verizon operates in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

SBC will likely offer Vonage an E911 interface similar to Verizon’s, once the two work out their differences.

The fact that the two are talking at all is progress, considering their rocky start. “Let’s be real about where they started from,” says Vonage spokesperson Brooke Shulz. “The first answer they gave us was ‘No, we’re not going to sell it to you.' ”

SBC has since changed its tune with Vonage, perhaps under pressure from Verizon’s progress. “SBC recognizes that this is a public service and it’s a critical one, and we’re going to make our best effort to work with them,” says SBC spokesperson Wes Warnock.

“SBC explained that Vonage could obtain access to E911 either by purchasing a retail switched 911 product or through an ancillary agreement to use SBC’s Tip Top product, which is a product that we offer other companies and includes E911 access," Warnock says.

But Vonage has rejected SBC’s pre-packaged solutions, which were designed for CLECs.

“We need access to the wireless elements as well because we have out-of-rate-center numbers,” Shulz says. “The CLEC solution is only good for local people on local phone numbers, so you’re forcing us into a half-assed solution.”

SBC is now assessing Vonage’s request for an E911 connection similar to those offered to wireless carriers, but Warnock says Vonage must also “obtain consent” from the PSAPs in SBC’s footprint before any agreement can be reached.

“We’re still discussing all this stuff with them, and we really don’t want to negotiate it in the press,” Warnock says.

Verizon’s E911 solution is all about public safety, Verizon says. But, as Vonage points out, it’s also about revenue.

“It’s a revenue generator, and it’s also a competitive advantage for their Voicewing [VOIP] product,” Shulz says. “If they design a solution that works for their voice-over-IP product, and other people can buy it, it’s in their benefit.”

Verizon acknowledges it will sell its E911 interface but offers few details on the price. The cost to the VOIP provider will depend on how many customers it has and how many network trunks are needed to handle the E911 traffic, says Verizon’s Marchand. “Then [it’s] whatever the tariffed rate is that anybody else would pay -- no more, no less.”

According to Vonage, the prices are also based on the locations you need to trunk into and on the development costs. Vonage says it’s worth it. “We are happy to do it and we’re happy to pay for it,” Shulz says of the Verizon agreement.

As Vonage learned the hard way in Texas, failure to support E911 service is a public relations black eye just waiting to happen (see Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke). Vonage’s Jeffrey Citron has for months complained of the RBOCs’ foot-dragging on enabling emergency service for VOIP callers (see Citron: Some Bills Are 'Weirdly Weird' ).

Cooperation on E911 between the telcos and VOIP providers has been slow. The telcos view VOIP players as a potentially disruptive force and haven’t been eager to help in their growth.

Until now, VOIP providers have relied upon third-party security companies to link their customers to law enforcement and emergency response agencies (see Vonage, Alarm.com Partner on VOIP Security and AT&T Adds 911 VOIP Calling).

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:17:05 AM
re: RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
Please clarify any misunderstandings I might have. I perceive the RBOCs as saying VoIP providers are not competitive because of E911 concerns, and then their actions are actively obstructing VoIP providers from offering that emergency service. Is this correct?

If they'll go as far to comprimise our public safety to prevent competition, it makes one question the integrity of the leadership we have acting as caretakers to our communications infrastructures.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:17:00 AM
re: RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
One of the many challenges for VOIP E911 has been determining the location of the caller.

My understanding is that Vonage is focused on presenting an address explicitly provided by their subscriber in order to identify the location of the emergency, and the appropriate Public Safety Access Point to contact.

Is anyone looking at dipping into a database of IP assignments against physical location? If the ISPs are willing to co-operate, or are mandated to do so, it seems there may be an opportunity to check the physical location to which a particular IP address has been allocated at any given time - at least for the majority of residential services (dial-up, DSL, or cable), and use that to supplement the available information.

Does anyone have further experience investigating such an opportunity?
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:16:57 AM
re: RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
"IP address does not define a geographic location."

This is true in general. But as I suggested, for most residential subscribers it will correlate with a geographic location at any specific time.

If my connection is over UTP (i.e. dialup or DSL), there is information available which can correlate my IP address to that twisted pair. And that twisted pair correlates to a specific geographic address.

If my connection is over a cable modem, my subscription is similarly located at a specific physical location, and this information can be correlated to the IP address which has been assigned.

Sure, a subscriber could illegally re-sell their internet connection to other users at another location. Or another user could connect on an open wireless access within some geographic range from the subscriber location.

I also concede that this data correlation is not popularly done today, and making such a correlation public has been resisted by ISPs on privacy grounds against the likes of the RIAA. ISPs for their part concede that this correlation is possible, although it is not normally done today in the normal course of their operations: making it available in real-time would take effort on their part, but would appear to be technically feasible.

Other, larger networks (including many business subscribers) may or may not fit into such a paradigm. But having information based on physical wiring can often be helpful, especially if no other information has been explicitly registered by the subscriber.

My question wasn't to see if people could repeat the mantra of IP addresses not representing a physical location; it was to see if anyone has investigated a co-operative relationship with ISPs to provide a necessary emergency service.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:16:57 AM
re: RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
IP address does not define a geographic location. Sure you can localize it based upon what the serving ISP might know about the supposed subscriber - but that can still be misleading. The caller could be running through a proxy or might be attached to a wireless router that is sharing on an ad hoc network. Point is you can't know for sure. Even if the VoIP subscriber gave an address when they signed up they might not be at that address when they call 911. The TA boxes are very portable. They could be at a hotel on the road.

Besides the location information VoIP doesn't work when the power is out. Yeah, you can battery back-up up your end but you can't count on the ISP doing the same.

Check the Vonage Terms of Use regarding 911. They have their butt covered 10 different ways - but this just says it all:

"2.11 Alternative 911 Arrangements
You acknowledge that Vonage does not offer primary line or lifeline services. You should always have an alternative means of accessing traditional E911 services."

Until IP addresses can define a geographic location the way PSTN lines do 911 on VoIP will be "different".

User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:16:52 AM
re: RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
This is very nice of Verizon to enable Vonage to offer E911 service.

Of course, I live in a Verizon service area and we do NOT have 911 service. If Vonage can offer it insetad of Verizon, maybe that's one more reason to ditch Verizon and purchase VoIP.
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