RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911
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