• United States



by Paul Kerstein

Some VOIP Providers Miss FCC 911 ‘Deadline’

Dec 07, 20055 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Despite a Nov. 28 deadline, more than 30 VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) providers have not met U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements to offer an emergency dialing service called enhanced 911.

An estimated 750,000 U.S. VOIP customers did not have enhanced 911, or E911, service as of Nov. 28, according to the VON Coalition, a VOIP trade group.

The FCC had softened a requirement it adopted in May for VOIP providers to cut off service to customers who could not receive E911. But the FCC, in a Nov. 7 memo, told VOIP providers the agency expected them to stop marketing in areas where they could not provide E911 after Nov. 28.

E911 service pinpoints the street address of a 911 call coming into an emergency dispatch center.

The FCC was still processing waiver requests from VOIP providers Tuesday, but more than 30 VOIP providers have filed requests for extensions, an FCC spokesman said. In October, VOIP provider Nuvio Corp. filed a court challenge to the Nov. 28 deadline.

SunRocket Inc., a VOIP provider based in Virginia, reported that about 96 percent of its customers had E911 service as of Nov. 28. The company reportedly has more than 50,000 customers.

Vonage Holdings Corp., the largest U.S. provider of residential VOIP, said in a Nov. 28 waiver request that 26 percent of its customers had E911 service available. Vonage announced its one millionth customer in early September.

AT&T Inc. also told the FCC that about 35 percent of about 57,000 CallVantage VOIP customers do not have full E911 service.

About 90 percent of Vonage’s customers have connections that support E911, but many dispatch centers, using 911 services from traditional wireline carriers, are not ready to receive VOIP E911 calls, said Brooke Schulz, Vonage’s senior vice president of corporate communications.

Vonage has undertaken “painstaking efforts” to meet the FCC’s goal, with 125 employees working on E911 issues since June, the company told the FCC. But compliance has been slowed by some technical problems, including problems with number identification technology, as well as a lack of cooperation from some incumbent telephone providers and dispatch centers, Vonage said.

Vonage shares FCC concerns that a number of VOIP customers do not have E911 service, Schulz said. “We’ve been working very hard and very fast,” she said. “We’ve done everything in our power — we’ve turned up every single element we can control and can purchase.”

Vonage and AT&T have allowed customers to pick phone numbers not normally assigned to their local area. This “nomadic” service allows customers to choose a phone number that would not be a long-distance call to family or friends living half-way across the country, but the non-local phone numbers make it difficult to implement E911’s location pinpointing feature, Vonage and other VOIP providers have said.

“Where necessary 911 elements are made available and voluntary third-party cooperation is forthcoming, Vonage can and will be able to achieve the objectives of this order,” Vonage said in the filing. “Where such cooperation is not forthcoming, however, Vonage requires Commission policies [that] incent rather than discourage … cooperation and readiness.”

SunRocket has avoided difficulties associated with nomadic VOIP service by providing customers a local number and a second non-local number if they want one, said Joyce Dorris, the company’s chief marketing officer. In addition, the company has complied with the FCC’s expectation for VOIP providers to stop marketing in areas where they cannot provide E911, she said.

“We are selling exclusively to customers where we can provide enhanced 911 services,” Dorris said. “We think that’s critical.”

By the end of the year, SunRocket expects 99 percent of its customers to have E911, the company said. Still, it may be impossible for VOIP providers to achieve full compliance with the FCC order, Dorris said. Some customers move, some customers give the wrong street address when signing up for service, and some partners helping VOIP providers offer E911 could go out of business, she said.

“I don’t know if it ever can be 100 percent for anyone,” Dorris added.

About 750,000 of the 2.5 million residential VOIP customers in the U.S. did not have E911 service as of Nov. 28, estimated Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of the VON Coalition, a VOIP trade group. A great majority of those VOIP users would be Vonage customers.

Kohlenberger noted, however, that in some parts of the U.S., E911 is not available to wireline telephone customers, and the VON Coalition has pointed to an estimated 1.5 million mobile phone customers that do not yet have E911 service, after about a decade of work by the wireless industry.

VOIP providers have deployed E911 faster than any other phone services, Kohlenberger said. “Voice over IP providers have quickly stepped up to the plate in answering the call,” he said. “In 120 days, there has been phenomenal success.”

By Grant Gross – IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)