As pressure mounted for the FCC to relent on its deadline for VoIP E911, the U.S. regulatory agency stuck to its guns in the short term, continuing to insist that VoIP service providers file letters of compliance by Nov. 28.
However, the breadth of voice being raised in opposition to the FCCs actions with regard to emergency services make it likely the agency will make adjustments to its actions, particularly if many VoIP providers are not able to meet the requirements of its VoIP E911 order.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin did not reply directly to two letters, one from the House and one from the Senate, asking that it reconsider its VoIP E911 policies and deadlines. An FCC spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We always listen carefully to the concerns expressed by members of Congress. We are also sensitive to the concerns expressed by public safety officials that we should ensure that all consumers have access to 911 emergency services.”
The agency now is “focused on the compliance filings that are due from the providers tonight,” said the spokesperson on Nov. 28.
Putting on the Pressure
Among the forces working to change the current approaches to E911 are two bills, one in the U.S. Senate and one in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each calls for different approaches to implementing E911 in VoIP and specifically require changes in the E911 system itself to accommodate VoIP.
Backers of the Senate bill, which was voted out of committee unanimously, and others also wrote to the chairman asking that the FCC reconsider not only its deadlines, but also its requirement that VoIP providers stop marketing in areas where they cannot offer E911 service. The senators note that such a provision may “inadvertently” encourage “third-party competitors to deny VoIP providers access to essential E911 elements. This restriction could impede competition and unnecessarily delay deployment of E911.”
The Senate bill itself calls for an “appropriate transition period” that takes “into consideration available industry technological and operational standards.” The Senate says little about specific dates and actions, however. “Reading the bill I don’t see anything that stays the FCC’s current order,” says Glenn Richards, a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, counsel for VoIP advocacy organization, the VON Coalition.
However, Richards says, “What the Senate is trying to do is create an opportunity for the FCC to have to revisit the whole requirement for VoIP provide E911 and create a different standard by which the FCC should look at this.”
The House bill has not yet emerged from committee and its specific features are still very much in doubt. However, the letter called on the FCC to take specific actions to aid VoIP providers in delivering E911, particularly actions with regard to pseudo-Automatic Number Identification (pANI), that would ensure VoIP providers have access to PSAPs. Such specific direction will be difficult for the FCC to ignore for long.
Appeals and Court Actions
Besides attracting the interest of Congress, the FCC’s E911 actions have inspired court action and appeals using the agency’s own processes, activities that could also influence its activities in the future with regard to E911.
Although the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia refused to issue an emergency stay of the FCC VoIP E911 order, it continued the appeal filed by Nuvio Corp. to stay the order eventually, and will continue to hear arguments with a decision likely in a few months.
Also, the VON Coalition has filed a petition asking for clarification of several issues related to access to the E911 system, particularly with regard to the database of location information used by many 911 centers.
Further, it will take time for the agency to initiate action if VoIP service providers fail to comply with the agency’s requirements, and the FCC in the past has taken action, issuing what is called a notice of apparent liability (NAL), only in extreme cases. The FCC would have to determine that a company is required to make a filing, then whether or not it had, indeed, neglected to file. Some VoIP service providers are still small and may be under the radar to all but a few subscribers.