VOIP lets 911 callers down, communications officials say

Voice over IP technology has not been integrated with the nation's emergency telephone system, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials said.

'APCO is deeply concerned that the rapid deployment of VOIP service will have a serious and negative impact on the provisioning of 911 emergency communications,' the organization said in a statement released Thursday.

VOIP often does not give emergency service operators full information about where the call is coming from, APCO said, and 'there is a very real likelihood that a 911 call from a VOIP telephone will be lost, delayed or misrouted.'

The group is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to require that VOIP providers make their services fully compatible with 911 services.

VOIP routes telephone calls over networks using IP rather than using the public switched telephone network. IP originally was designed for moving packets of data but increasingly is being used for other media as well, including voice and video. AT&T Corp. today announced an initiative to expand its portfolio of VOIP services and aggressively market them to business and residential customers worldwide.

The FCC requires 911 calls from wireline phones and cellular phones to provide the emergency operator with the number of the phone and its location. This Enhanced 911 service is available for wireline phones and is being implemented for cellular service.

But there are no similar requirements for VOIP. The telephone number associated with the VOIP call often is in a format the 911 system does not recognize, and often is not associated with a location in the 911 system database.

The FCC is debating whether VOIP providers should be subject to the same regulation as other service providers. APCO said 911 requirements should be separate from, and in advance of, other regulatory decisions.

APCO said a number of VOIP providers are voluntarily working toward a solution. The organization welcomes the cooperation, but said 'enforceable regulation is necessary to ensure that solutions are sufficient to satisfy the public interest.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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