December 1, 2005 4:00 AM PST

With E911 deadline past, what's next for VoIP firms?

The deadline for Net phone providers to have their customers outfitted with enhanced 911 capabilities has come and gone. So what now?

At this point no one really knows. Officials at the Federal Communications Commission say they're still reviewing documents that were filed by voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, providers before a 12:01 a.m. Tuesday deadline. That means it's impossible to say for certain how many VoIP companies are in compliance with the mandate.

So far, the FCC hasn't taken action against specific companies. For the time being, the Internet telephony industry is in a kind of limbo. Companies such as Vonage and 8x8 say they plan to continue marketing to prospective customers and signing them up for their service, but in doing so the companies risk racking up heavy fines.

"I don't know what the next step is," said Bryan Martin, president and CEO of 8x8. "This is the final filing since the FCC issued its mandate 120 days ago. We had a collective sigh of relief the other day after we filed, but now we don't know what comes next or how the FCC will react to our filing."

In May the FCC issued a mandate requiring all voice over IP providers to comply, within 120 days, with enhanced 911 services that automatically provide a caller's location and telephone number.

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 earlier this month, amid complaints from the industry, the FCC revised its position. Instead of being shut down, VoIP providers that don't comply will be unable to market their services to new customers in areas where E911 isn't yet available.

It's unclear what the FCC will do next. Some experts believe it will not strictly enforce the mandate, so long as VoIP companies are making progress.

"Normally there could be fees associated with noncompliance," said Maribel Lopez, a vice president at Forrester Research. "But I think there might be some leniency. It was an incredibly short deadline to begin with, and given the fact that the (much older) wireless industry is still filing for extensions, it doesn't seem like they could impose stiff penalties."

Technical riddles
The level of compliance varies. Vonage, the best known VoIP provider, claims that 90 percent of its customers can connect to the routers in the E911 network, but not all of these connections have been fully tested, according to a letter filed with the FCC.

Vonage officials said about 26 percent of its customers can access local E911 networks that have been fully tested. The company expects to boost that figure to 67 percent in the next 30 days, and Vonage executives expect to reach 97 percent of their customers with fully tested E911 service by the middle of next year.

Vonage blames its lack of compliance on tricky technical issues and resistance company officials claim they've faced from some traditional phone companies.

In a Nov. 14 letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, Jeffrey Citron, CEO of Vonage, accused Qwest Communications of not fully cooperating with Vonage's efforts to identify "dummy numbers," or unassigned phone numbers, that can be used to link out-of-area phone numbers to a local E911 operator.

CONTINUED: "Trying to educate the FCC"…
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6 comments

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E911 and effeteness of the real world
The main reason for doing this 911 registering is incase of emergency response a government official can react quickly and efficiently. But stop for a moment that call might route thru multiple stations. By the time it get to the right place that knows how long its take to the proper authority to be on the seen. So we all can see there is a big IF! If the right officials can show up in case of emergency, in the right time only for that this is a nice feature

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we are all about your GSM phone
Posted by gsm-profile (3 comments )
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What about the fact that the phone lines are STILL alive ?
Isn't it true that even if these people were to switch to VOIP that their phone lines are still ( By federal law ) required to be able to contact emergency services ?

Why couldn't Vonage ( and the other VOIP providers ) redesign their "modem/router" so that it is connected to the land line for 911 services ?
Posted by Sir Geek (114 comments )
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E911 and the old network
I think the problem is that when people get VoIP they get rid of their existing phone line. That's what I did when I switched to VoIP. The physical wire that used to connect to the phone in my apartment is still there, but there's nothing in my apartment that is connected to that old infrastructure anymore. So I'm not sure how the the VoIP provider could use that line. In my opinion, it seems like the main problem is that we are trying to retrofit new technology into an old system. What would makes more sense to me is if we started upgrading the old 911 network to be IP-enabled, which would solve a lot of these issues. Everything else is going IP, so it makes sense that the emergency system would migrate in that direction. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this. I'm thinking of doing a follow up story that addresses this issue and explains how a new emergency network based on IP could be built.
Posted by MaggieReardon (140 comments )
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They aren't....
Federal law only mandates that the line remain alive for a certain period of time (usually 14 days) when a customer is disconnected for nonpayment of service. Generally, that gets applied to disconnections that the customer requests (as when switching to VoIP service). After that time, the line is completely dead.
Posted by stanman0125 (3 comments )
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Charge Too Much...
I ditched Vonage when I moved, that was the worst thing I could have done. I signed up with SBC here in Dallas Metroplex, $300 and 2 months later I am back with Vonage. If the phone companies would offer cheap, easy to order and manage phone lines they could wipe VOIP all over the floor. Why don't the traditional carriers get with it and start competing? They don't have to, with the push to ban VOIP through the Spanish Civil War Tax, and now E911, they are doing all they can to stifle competition. Where are the "People" who often accuse MicroSoft of being a monopoly, where is the outrage over charging people $80/month and 10 cents a minute for long distance. If VOIP is banned I will chose to have NO PHONE, rather than pay the man! I will NEVER go back.
Posted by SolariPIcasso (9 comments )
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