May 19, 2005 11:11 AM PDT

FCC requires VoIP to clean up its 911 act

The FCC on Thursday gave Net phone carriers a late September deadline to provide the same kind of 911 service available to people who call for help from landline or cell phones.

In one of the biggest challenges yet for the young VoIP industry, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously that Net phone operators must be able to steer 911 calls to the geographically appropriate emergency call center. In addition, the calls themselves must be accompanied by the originating address and phone number, the FCC said. The operators will have 120 days to comply after the ruling is published, which is expected in the next few days.

News.context

What's new:
By late September, Net phone providers must offer 911 service equivalent to that available over landline or cell phones, the FCC ruled Thursday.

Bottom line:
Emergency calls over Internet phone systems aren't fully reliable. The ruling is a step toward fixing the system, but technical and political issues remain.

Click here for more stories on 911 via Net phones

The commission is responding to concerns from lawmakers and the public about a growing number of U.S. residents who use VoIP services. VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, allows a broadband connection to double as a phone line, and Net phone calling plans are cheaper than regular landline plans. But because the calls aren't routed through the traditional phone system, carriers must engineer a way to get them onto the 911 infrastructure serving the nation's 6,200 emergency call centers. That task involves many technical, business and political hurdles.

"While they seem functionally the same, many (VoIP) callers find that they can't reach local emergency operators," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday. "This situation is unacceptable. People have a reasonable expectation that when they dial 911, they are connected to the emergency operator."

The new rules will have the greatest impact on commercial VoIP operators that consider themselves a replacement for local and long-distance service from traditional operators. This group includes Vonage, the largest VoIP provider in the United States.

It couldn't be immediately determined if VoIP operators such as Skype, which don't market themselves as a replacement service because the calls are predominantly between computers, are excluded from the rules. The FCC decided that any operator that connects to the traditional phone network would fall under the rule--that is, essentially the entire VoIP industry. In a statement, Skype said it is "working with the FCC to develop appropriate emergency response solutions for IP-based communications services."

VoIP plans fixed in one location, similar to the versions sold by cable operators Cox Communications and Comcast, would also be required to comply. Most of these providers already offer so-called enhanced 911.

"It's likely something we would already comply with," said Mike Pacifico, marketing director for Cox Digital Phone.

A big question now is whether VoIP operators can make the deadline. Vonage, which now has 911 agreements in place with three of the four Bells, said Thursday it will be able to deliver

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11 comments

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The call centers don't have DSL?
It seems like you could install a VoIP line in each call center....
What am I missing here?
Posted by Jimmu411 (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Has nothing to do with it
The problem has nothing to do with the connection to the call center.

The issue is that there is no method for routing internet traffic, regardless of connection type to the closest center. There is also the matter of your carrier refusing to submit ALI records to a national database so they can be pulled when you call 911. Third, too many VoIP vendors rely on their customers changing their location records when they move or take their phone on the road.

The connection is the least of the problems.
Posted by (52 comments )
Link Flag
Where is equality in 911 for cellular users?
Wasn't this same issue to be resolved for cellular users as well? There are more than a few people who have gone wireless with only cellular phone connections.

An interesting fact from Florida: When we had the hurricane strikes last summer, Verizon was working just fine and our Sprint wireline was out or the calls were not making it through the switching centers. We were wireless by defalt with no clear emergency 911!
Posted by rleuner (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wireless 911
Wireless providers have already been mandated to meet E911 standards.

There have been some delays, notably waiting for E911-capable handsets to make it into the hands of citizens and a few providers dragging their feet, but by and large wireless E911 is moving along well.
Posted by (52 comments )
Link Flag
You don't have to wait there's Packet8
You don't have to wait for the other VoIPs to get their act together for 911 Packet8 already offers what is talked about in this article.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.packet8.net/about/e911.asp" target="_newWindow">http://www.packet8.net/about/e911.asp</a>
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Except....
They are still relying on the user to enter location information. I'm telling you that won't happen consistently enough for the service to be reliable.

Not only will their information not be up to date, but they will likely also be routed to the wrong call center.
Posted by (52 comments )
Link Flag
fantastic
this is a great thing for voIP, i have been wanting to convert my landlines (i have 5) to voIP and keep the same numbers, but had the problem with 911.

The voIP companies may be pissed, but atleast it will save some lives.


~~drosen24
Posted by drosen24 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VolP 911
It won't work here in PA., because the police ignor the 911 service anyway because of the high rate of prank calls used on cell phones, and yes I know their is a way to track cell phones for there SIM card. But we are 7 years behind the times, and the cost of upgrading is too high.

Example; about 2 years ago, my daughter was in a bad car wreck in the city of Bethlehem PA. She was in shock and tried to call 911 on her cell phone...she was cut off 2 times and listed as a prank call. Thats when she called me, and I ran the 6 blocks to her car and pried open her door that was crushed in. Well after the mess was cleaned up and we returned from the Hospital. I had a few crossed words with the desk Sgt; and the buck was passed off to the North Hampton 911 service for not following through on the call.

So if the 911 service is in bad shape here..., so will be the FCC ruling on VolP. It will be ignored here in PA as well.

the doc
Posted by Doc_sean (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just Like Cells? So then...nothing
Still waiting in most areas for that Enhanced 911. Kids are loving it. Nothing like sending the cops on wild goose chases all night or having your buddy call in a "shots fired" call to get you out of a traffic stop.
Bush was wrong. It's not the U.N. that's obsolete it's the FCC - still operating in the '70's just like NASA.
Posted by byronlord00 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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