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E911 Tough for Nomadic VOIP

Posted by inet - 2005-12-02

It now appears that most of the “bring-your-own-access” VOIP providers have fallen well short of meeting the FCC’s tough new E911 requirements, the deadline for which was Monday.

Around 180 VOIP providers filed “compliance letters” to the commission Monday, and many of them have asked for extensions on the deadline.

Under the new rules, all VOIP 911 callers must be able to reach the correct local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), and also automatically transmit their call-back number and physical address to an emergency operator.

For VOIP providers like cable MSOs that own their own access networks, that isn’t so hard because interconnection with emergency systems must only be established within the provider’s footprint.

But for “bring-your-own-access” types like Lingo Inc. and Vonage Holdings Corp. whose services can be picked up and plugged back in anywhere (i.e. “nomadic”), true compliance means having a working E911 interconnection in every part of the country.

On that basis, Vonage reported to the FCC that only 26 percent of its customers now have access to E911 service.

“A provider really is not in compliance unless they have interconnection with the 911 network nationwide and have nationwide access to the automatic location information (ALI) databases,” says Staci Pies of the Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition. “Vonage's numbers are probably more accurate... because Vonage is looking at compliance on a nationwide basis.”

Establishing nationwide VOIP connectivity requires a good deal of cooperation from the ILECs, which in most cases act as the gatekeepers to emergency communication networks. Vonage claims lack of cooperation from the ILECs is one reason why more of its subscribers can’t access E911.

Vonage also says it is sending the call-back number and address information to public safety systems, but only a third of the systems are set up to receive and display the data.

A VON Coalition survey taken before the November 28 deadline revealed that almost half its member providers expected to have to disconnect some customers where E911 service isn’t offered.

Primus Telecommunications Inc. uses a third party company called Intrado Inc. to link to the PSAPs in its service areas, yet as of November 21 only 32 percent if the provider's customers had E911 service.

SunRocket Inc. says that 96 percent of its customers now have E911 service.

Nuvio Corp. CEO Jason Talley declined to say how many of his customers didn’t have E911 during a conversation with Light Reading Monday. Talley filed suit in Virginia seeking an injunction against the FCC’s E911 mandate, and lost. Nuvio has since appealed the case.

8x8 Inc. reports that approximately 8 percent of its subscribers are E911-enabled on a nomadic, nationwide basis.

Net2Phone Inc. reports that as of November 7 only 27 percent of its customers have access to E911 service as defined by the FCC.

Approximately 65% of AT&T Corp. CallVantage customers now have E911 service. AT&T says it has stopped taking orders for new service in areas not yet E911-enabled.

The question now is whether or not the FCC will be aggressive in the enforcement of the new E911 rules. Already the commission has taken a couple steps back from its original posture.

The FCC has said it will not require the disconnection of VOIP customers in areas lacking e911 service, but will require that further marketing and customer acquisition cease.

This hits VOIP providers where it hurts. The VOIP business is a low-margin affair and relies on constant growth to reach the scale needed for profitability.

But even the order to cease marketing now appears to be negotiable.

Many VOIP providers have already asked the FCC for more time to establish the nationwide connections needed to deliver true E911 service. Vonage has said it will continue marketing to new customers while it waits for the waiver to be approved by the FCC.

In order for a petitioner to win a waiver to continue marketing as usual in areas without true E911, they simply have to demonstrate that requiring otherwise would be “inequitable, unduly burdensome, or contrary to the public interest.”

That language was taken directly from the wireless 911 regulation handbook. E911 efforts in the wireless world have drug on for a decade, and 81 million wireless subscribers live in areas where the service isn’t yet available, according to the VON Coalition.

By comparison, the VOIP industry's progress in E911 has been lightening fast.

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