Optical/IP Networks

FCC Requires VOIP E911

Independent VOIP providers are expressing mixed reactions today in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s decision to require that the companies provide full emergency 911 service to their customers within 120 days (see Sources: FCC Will Force VOIP E911).

Most VOIP providers now provide some sort of 911 service today. But different providers have different offers. Some require a customer to opt-in. Some charge extra. Some have a basic 911 service, not “E911.”

The FCC ruled that VOIP providers that connect callers to the publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) must be able to provide full E911 service. That is, they must have the access and systems in place to route emergency calls that automatically generate the caller’s location information for the 911 operator.

This requires that the customer’s VOIP service be associated with a static, physical location, a requirement some VOIP advocates say runs counter to the advantages of IP-based phone services.

Some VOIP providers are better positioned than others to comply with the commission’s ruling, having offered E911 service to customers from the start as part of a standard package. Representatives from Speakeasy Inc. and SunRocket Inc., for instance, have required E911 service from the start, rejecting new subscribers from areas in which E911 service isn’t deliverable.

“We designed our service understanding the constraint of the existing 911 infrastructure,” says SunRocket chairman Paul Erickson. SunRocket launched in January and is now available in 50 markets.

“But when you go back and look at a company like Vonage, they are trying to retrofit 911 into an environment in which they hadn’t built a system that was designed to follow the constraints of the existing 911 system,” Erickson says.

Erickson says his competitor, Vonage Holdings Corp., will spend $10 million getting its E911 service up to the Commission’s expectations. Vonage did not return calls seeking comment.

Other VOIP providers are expressing frustration with the commission’s 120-day timeframe.

“They have tried to implement in sort of a shotgun fashion some type of E911 mandate that just may not be technically possible in the time frame that they are suggesting,” saysNuvio Corp. CEO Jason Talley. “At the end of the 120 days we will probably still be working on this.”

In order to comply, VOIP providers must enter a tariff arrangement with the local exchange carrier or a third party to connect with the PSAPs, or public safety access points. But until recently, the LECs have been in no hurry to accommodate the VOIP providers (see RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911).

The FCC’s order will include language directing the LECs to allow any and all VOIP providers access to the public emergency communication systems. Observers say it is unlikely that that part of the order will have teeth. Several FCC commissioners have already expressed doubts over the commission’s jurisdictional power to compel the LECs.

“My concern is that the LECs are going to use this as a means to stifle competition,” Talley says. “If they are able to hold off long enough that the industry suffers, well, then quite honestly, what’s a couple hundred million dollars in a lawsuit going to hurt them when they have just driven off a competitive threat?”

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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