November 28, 2005 4:20 PM PST

Net phone operators reach E911 deadline

The deadline for Net phone companies to comply with a Federal Communications Commission mandate to provide emergency 911 services ends at midnight on Monday.

Back in May, the FCC ruled that voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers that interconnect with the traditional phone network would have to provide 911 operators with locations and telephone numbers of callers. The rules don't apply to non-interconnected services that supply computer-to-computer calling and do not link up to the public telephone network, like Skype.

Originally, the FCC told VoIP operators that if they didn't comply with the rule by the deadline they would be forced to stop offering service to customers. But the strict compliance mandate prompted sharp criticism from the industry, which said it needed more time to secure contracts and deploy the necessary equipment.

One provider even took legal action. Earlier this summer, a VoIP company called Nuvio, based in Kansas, filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The company wanted the court to permit it a temporary stay, arguing it would be impossible to meet the requirements of the new rule. Earlier this month, the federal appeals court denied its request.

Third Party Verification, a company based in Orlando, Fla., that offers live agent and online third-party verification services, filed an ex parte letter on Monday with the FCC requesting relief from the deadline.

Due to all the criticism over the new rule, the FCC decided earlier this month to revise its position. Now VoIP service providers are not required to cut off service to customers where enhanced 911 isn't offered. Instead, they are only required to file a letter detailing how much of their subscriber base can receive E911 service.

As part of this new rule, VoIP companies also 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.

As a result, about 98 million mostly rural Americans won't be able to become new subscribers to VoIP services now that the FCC rules have kicked in, according to the Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition, an industry group that represents VoIP interests.

According to a survey by the VON Coalition, about 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 cost too much to implement by the deadline, because it would require call routers to be deployed in obscure locations in order to recognize the location of "nomadic" users all over the world.

 

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