FCC Will Not Cut off VoIP Subscribers with No E-911

The FCC Enforcement Bureau issued a notice late Tuesday, that, once again, it had adjusted its original VoIP E-911 Order. The agency dropped the requirement that VoIP service providers cut off subscribers who do not have E-911 coverage by Nov. 28

The notice also says the agency explicitly bans VoIP service providers from marketing in areas where they do not have E-911 coverage.

The provision will exclude many rural and poorer areas where there either is no E-911 coverage or where it might be difficult for the VoIP provider to access the E-911 system.

The FCC notice comes shortly after a Senate committee unanimously passed to the floor a bill about E-911 that prevents cut-offs of services and requires the FCC to make rules that include an appropriate transition period by which to comply with such requirements or obligations, and take into consideration available industry technological and operational standards, including network security. The bill also requires E-911 systems to open their infrastructure in a nondiscriminatory manner to VoIP service providers.

The change was blasted by the VoIP community. The Enforcement Bureau Public Notice is a charade window dressing, designed to assuage the D.C. Circuit in the Nuvio challenge of the FCC E-911 for VoIP Order and to appease Congress in the wake of last week’s Senate Commerce Committee message to the FCC that it should not shut off VoIP services, says Jonathan Askin, counsel for

Nuvio Corp., a provider of wholesale VoIP business services, has filed a court appeal of the FCCs VoIP E911 Order, requesting an emergency stay of the original June order. The company says the FCC has been arbitrary in crafting the rule because it ignores technological realities of IP communication. The appeal also says the agency has placed requirements on VoIP providers that are greater than those placed on other technologies.

Patrick Halley, director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) says, We think, though, after there is a rule on the books, they should not offer service where they dont have an E-911 provision.

Some in VoIP have charged that the ban on marketing service where there is no 911 coverage could create a digital divide between urban and rural. It is most likely true that the areas where people will have difficulty offering a solution are rural areas, Halley says. We think the answer is not to allow service that does not provide E911, but also to provide incentives to offer 911 service in rural areas. We appreciate that argument and dont want to slow VoIP service in rural areas. But we want to be sure that the services they do offer include 911.

Askin adds, there is no other instance where the FCC has prevented a new service or technology from being marketed where it does not have a full E-911 solution wireline, wireless, satellite all lack E-911 in areas where these services are marketed and sold.

VoIP providers now must file letters of compliance with the full FCC order on or before Nov. 28, 2005.

The prospects for the Senate bill as considered good. We expect the Senate in full to deal with it as soon as possible, says Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of The VON Coalition, an industry organization in Washington. It was unanimous, and the sponsors are both rural and urban, Republican and Democrat. So we expect that it will pass.

The U.S. House of Representatives also is considering a similar bill, as well as a larger measure for telecom reform, that has concerned the VoIP community, as well as other providers of competitive third-party services, because it does not, in their opinion, provide sufficient protection of net neutrality. Net neutrality means a service provide does not interfere with any legal content or services that can be accessed over the Internet.

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