VoIP Providers Slam FCC E911 Decision

VoIP service providers and industry members attacked the FCC’s May 19 order requiring VoIP operators to provide E911, saying the ruling sets up requirements that are impossible for the industry to meet within the timeframe set by the agency. Compliance with the rules must be within 120 days of the order’s publication in the Federal Record.

“This has the potential to be a real problem for the industry,” adds Ravi Sakaria, CEO of consumer and business VoIP provider VoicePulse Inc.

Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of The VON Coalition Inc., an industry advocacy organization, says VoIP providers are committed to providing 911 services as soon as possible, but the FCC 120-day requirement “is an ambitious timetable.”

“We are going to work toward that goal, and, if we do, we will be the first industry to do it that fast,” he says.

The FCC order has not been published and may not be available for more than a month, but the agency’s press release lists several requirements for VoIP 911 as follows:

 Interconnected VoIP providers must deliver all 911 calls to the customer’s local emergency operator. This must be a standard, rather than optional, feature of the service.
 Interconnected VoIP providers must provide emergency operators with the call-back number and location information of their customers (i.e. E911) where the emergency operator is capable of receiving it. Although the customer must provide the location information, the VoIP provider must provide the customer a means of updating this information, whether he or she is at home or away from home.
 By the effective date, interconnected VoIP providers must inform their customers, both new and existing, of the E911 capabilities and limitations of their services.
 The incumbent LECs are required to provide access to their E911 networks to any requesting telecommunications carrier. They must continue to provide access to trunks, selective routers, and E911 databases to competing carriers. The commission will monitor this obligation closely.

The FCC also said it intends to adopt, in a future order, an “advanced E911 solution” that will include a way to determine the user’s location automatically.

The problem with the FCC action, as described in the press release, say VoIP industry members, is that the definition of terms is not clear. If the term “telecommunications carrier,” for example, refers only to providers officially designated as telecom operators, VoIP experts say, then the order does not require LECs to open their networks directly to VoIP providers. VoIP providers would have to go through third parties, such as Intrado Inc. and HBF Group Inc.

The costs for directly connecting to the LEC may be prohibitive, say experts. VoIP providers “are still analyzing the ILEC [911 access] offerings to make sure if it makes sense to do it directly,” says attorney Glenn Richards, a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLC, a Washington law firm that represents several VoIP companies.

Speaking on background, one industry said the cost to leading consumer VoIP provider Vonage Holdings Corp. for direct access to Verizon’s 911 system at two points only in New York was $10 million upfront and $2 million per month, which translated to about $400 per subscriber per month over a year.

The morning of the FCC’s May 19 ruling Vonage announced it negotiated an agreement to purchase 911 access from both SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. In the company’s press release, Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron says, “We have all settled, in principle, to unbundle wireless E911 elements, so VoIP providers like us can implement NENA’s (National Emergency Number Association) new I2 standard, instead of being restricted to a CLEC for call delivery.”

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