November 8, 2005 7:59 AM PST

FCC abandons E911 deadline

Net phone companies won't be forced to cut off callers who can't dial into the enhanced 911 network by Nov. 28, the Federal Communications Commission announced.

Instead, the latest FCC notice (click for PDF)--issued late Monday--requires voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, providers to file a letter detailing how much of their subscriber base can receive E911 service, a next-generation network that automatically steers calls to a geographically appropriate emergency call center and identifies the caller's originating address.

Accompanying that requirement is a new condition that proved perplexing to the Net phone industry: VoIP companies are expected to stop marketing their services and accepting new customers in areas that aren't outfitted with the technology to do the necessary E911 call routing, even if the subscribers would have access to "basic" 911 service.

That means that even in the best-case scenario, about 98 million mostly rural Americans won't be able to become new subscribers to VoIP services when the FCC rules kick in, said Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of the VON Coalition, which represents VoIP interests.

"The FCC's action preventing marketing of new services while E911 is being deployed is completely unprecedented," Kohlenberger said. "In the case of every other type of phone service, all of which have more subscribers without E911, policymakers have specifically not prevented them from adding new customers while the industry deploys E911."

Vonage co-founder Jeff Pulver voiced a similar reaction on his his Weblog: "I am still baffled as to why the FCC has felt compelled to single out the nascent IP-based communications industry as subject to more onerous regulation."

An FCC representative on Tuesday could not confirm that the move was unprecedented, saying it would be difficult to determine whether the agency had historically created similar rules related to 911 for other forms of phone service. She said she was aware of a rule stipulating that long-distance carriers could not market their services before receiving FCC approval to provide coverage in a particular area, and the agency "did take enforcement actions" against rule breakers in that situation.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate panel recently backed a proposal that would require VoIP providers to offer 911 service but would seem to require more flexibility from the FCC. Forcible cutoffs would be illegal, and the FCC would be allowed to waive the rules for companies that prove it unfeasible, on technical and operational levels, to provide E911 access.

According to a survey released Monday by the VON Coalition, approximately 750,000 VoIP subscribers would have lost their service under the original FCC rules adopted in May. VoIP providers have argued that full compliance would call for an unreasonably large investment in call routers for obscure locations in order to recognize the location of "nomadic" users all over the world.

4 comments

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Voip companies are embarassing the communications industry
This industry which has prided itself by new technologies has met a new smugness, the almighty dollar. "Please Mr. FCC don't shut us down. Forget all about the fact that we are endangering people's lives. What would people do without us, pay slightly more money and get better quality service? That's not fair or competitive. We can't get rich without hurting people" Folks, someone has already been hurt by this issue. I am utterly amazed this issue isn't being taken more seriously by the FCC and federal government. It seems that it is important to block spam and stop telemarketers but helping emergency crews find a home quicker, forget about it. Here is the message of the day: Support our troops! Screw the police and fire department! What hurts more is Vonage's marketing campaign about people doing stupid things. Buy their service is the best example of stupid. Pay less and possibly pay with your life or others!
Posted by da_bombdiggidy (42 comments )
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911
It's the same reason we are still running cars on gas and have 92
year old politicians. It's old thinking. The big boys didn't think
of it first and instead of figuring out away around the problem
Verizon or someone that has the FCC in their pocket said we
aren't doing anything. (Probably the same guy that sends fines
to Stern) Everyone wants Microsoft to open up their products to
competitors but I don't see Verizon, Comcast, SBC, etc... having
to play by the same rules. To them it's not their problem so why
fix it. I have a cell phone and use Vonage. Why should I have to
pay almost $40 to have basic phone service plus long
distance???? They should let them offer service to people that
can prove they have a cell phone that can call 911. And yes you
can call 911 with a cell phone I have done it at least 7 times. I
know the previous poster wouldn't know that since it sounds like
he still uses 2 cups and a string.
Posted by alb203 (6 comments )
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Do your due diligence...
e911 has to do with the ability to track the call to the location. It has nothing to do with being able to call the 911 operators. The storys that prompted this push by the FCC had to do with a child trying to call 911 while a murder was in progress. Timing is everything. People in emergencies are often in shock or might be strangers to their surrounds. Police and the fire department should not have to rely on the caller's ability to give instructions. As for your cheap 2 cups comment. I know more about this technology then most. I just know there are more important things than cost..... like losing love ones to bad technologies.
Posted by da_bombdiggidy (42 comments )
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