FCC Extends VoIP E911 Notice Deadline

By Roy Mark

August 26, 2005

Providers now have until end of September to collect customer acknowledgements of emergency calling limitations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday gave Voice over IP providers another 30 days to inform their Internet telephone subscribers of the E911 limitations that come with the service.

Under the new FCC order, customers who do not acknowledge the limitations will have their service cut off on Sept. 28, although the FCC left open the possibility of "soft" disconnection or suspension methods.

The 30-day extension allows interconnected VoIP providers to continue to obtain acknowledgements from subscribers and minimize the number subject to potential disconnection.

In May, the FCC said that all Internet telephony companies that interconnect with the public switched telephone network (PSTN) must route VoIP-orginated E911 calls directly to emergency dispatchers along with the location of the caller. The FCC said this had to be done by the end of November.

As an interim step, the FCC also ordered VoIP providers to notify subscribers that their E911 service is different from traditional emergency calling services and required acknowledgements by the end of July. That deadline was later extended to the end of August as long as the provider filed a report on its acknowledgement efforts by Aug. 10.

"The Bureau has reviewed numerous reports filed by VoIP providers," the FCC's Enforcement Bureau said in a statement. "The reports demonstrate the significant efforts made by providers in complying with the 100 percent affirmative acknowledgement requirement."

The statement added, "The [Enforcement] Bureau expects that all interconnected VoIP providers . . . will continue to use all means available to them to obtain affirmative acknowledgements from all of their subscribers."

The FCC also cited the example of New York City-based Broadview Networks' "soft disconnect" approach as an alternative to cutting off the service of VoIP subscribers who refuse to provide an affirmative acknowledgement.

The procedure will either block all non-911 calls or intercept and send those calls to the provider's customer service department, where the company can explain the need for an acknowledgement.

Under this soft disconnect approach, however, calls to 911 will continue to go to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point.

"A provider'sreports [to the FCC] must include either a statement that the provider will use a "soft" disconnect (or similar) solution as of September 28, 2005, or a detailed explanation of why it is not feasible."

Vonage, the nation's largest independent VoIP provider with approximately 750,000 subscribers, is taking a soft disconnect approach for its recalcitrant subscribers, informing them in a Friday e-mail that without an affirmative acknowledgement, "We will be required to restrict your outbound calling for your Vonage service."

The new FCC extension also comes on the heels of numerous requests by VoIP providers for more time to implement the agency's E911 rules.

In the latest of these appeals, the VON Coalition, a lobbying group of VoIP providers and equipment makers, sent a letter Thursday to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin calling for more time to implement the agency's E911 rules.

"We believe that consumers should not be inconvenienced or potentially placed in harm's way by having their VoIP service disconnected," the letter states. "Otherwise, terminating VoIP service to businesses and consumers would inevitably impede commerce . . . and could even leave VoIP customers stranded in an emergency."

Originally published on .

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