E911 Deadline: A Stretch for Most

The FCC wants all VOIP providers E911-ready by November 28, but most will not have the service ready in all territories

July 20, 2005

4 Min Read
E911 Deadline:  A Stretch for Most

Many VOIP providers will not be able to provide "enhanced" 911 service to all their customers by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s November 28 deadline, VOIP industry sources say (see FCC Requires VOIP E911).

The FCC order requires VOIP providers provide ”enhanced” 911 service, which delivers a caller’s name, telephone number, and physical address directly to the console of the local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in an emergency.

Industry insiders say most VOIP providers are working toward the goal, but realizing it in the entirety of their territory, for most, is an unrealistic goal.

"The folks who are working toward compliance at least are going to be in compliance in part of their service territories,” says Staci Pies, president of the VON Coalition. Pies recently mixed with 100 or so LEC and VOIP provider compliance people at an E911 compliance forum in Washington.

The order has the industry scrambling, especially the “bring your own access” residential VOIP providers like Vonage Holdings Corp. whose users often are nomadic or mobile. These companies will have a doubly hard time affixing physical addresses to all VOIP phone numbers, as the order requires (see VOIP Carriers Track 911 Solutions).

Pies points out that there’s no easy answer to the nomadic VOIP problem. “The only way to provide enhanced E911 regardless of where your customer picks up their device and moves it to would require that you have trunking interconnections nationwide,” Pies says. “And I don’t anticipate that anybody will have direct trunking nationwide.” (See RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911.)

This leaves most VOIP providers in the position of picking and choosing which markets are most important to have up and running in time for the E911 deadline (see Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke).

Pies, who is a former FCC staffer, is now VP of regulatory and governmental affairs at VOIP provider PointOne Telecommunications. “We’re still trying to figure out which markets we need to get the trunking in first, which you can go to the market where you have the most numbers assigned,” Pies says.

AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T)is working to get everything in place for all its VOIP customers, but is cagey about whether it will make the deadline in all territories. “That deadline is too far off. Call me back in about two months and we might be able to answer that," says AT&T CallVantage spokesman Gary Morgenstern. “The majority of our customers are already E911 enabled, so we’re working on the rest."

In order to comply with the E911 order, VOIP providers must establish network trunks into the selective routers that send emergency calls into the public emergency call infrastructure. Since the LECs own these routers, it is often a difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process for VOIP providers to get access to them (see Level 3 Expands E911 VOIP and Vonage to Buy E911 Service From RBOCs).

The VOIP provider also must maintain databases in every calling area of every customer’s physical address and call-back number so that they can be reached by emergency personnel in their area. This is also a time-consuming and expensive process.

Many providers, such as Vonage and AT&T, are turning to Intrado Inc. to help get all the E911 pieces in place (see VOIP 911 Still Trails Wireline). Intrado is now setting up interconnections to the 700 selective routers in the U.S. needed to route E911 calls into the dedicated wireline E9-1-1 network. Intrado then contracts out the use of those interconnections to its VOIP customers.

But Intrado admits it will not have the selective router connections in all areas finished in advance of the deadline. Intrado product manager for VOIP services Marcus Andronici says the company expects to have access to the routers in the top 20 to 25 population centers by August or September.

"We are expanding our coverage as quickly as possible,” Andronici says. "But there are certain dependencies that we can not control in getting agreements with the LECs."

Pacific Growth Equities Inc. analyst Joe Noel downgraded the Intrado stock on July 1 in anticipation of a missed November 28 deadline.

"We believe the 120-day deadline is not practical and is thus unlikely to be met by the vast majority of VoIP service providers," Noel says in a research note. “In our opinion, VOIP service providers are quickly realizing that delays in E-911 implementation are inevitable, due to the extensive amount of work required by this undertaking.”

Many in the industry are quietly hoping for an extension of the deadline from the FCC.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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