FCC requires VOIP providers to include enhanced 911 service

The Federal Communications Commission has given providers of voice over IP telephone service 120 days to include enhanced 911 emergency calling services in their offerings.

In announcing the order yesterday, the FCC called E911 'critical to our nation's ability to respond to a host of incidents in which users of interconnected VOIP dialed 911 but were not able to reach emergency operators.'

Enhanced 911 provides emergency operators with the number and location of the caller, enabling first responders to respond even if a caller is not able to fully communicate.

But because VOIP service travels on a separate infrastructure, many providers do not offer the ability to provide this information or even to route a 911 call at an emergency operator.

The FCC order applies to interconnected VOIP carriers ' that is, carriers whose IP-based service can send and receive calls to and from the public switched telephone service. It does not apply to other voice-based IP services.

The service must be offered as a standard feature, not an optional one. Because VOIP service is not tied to a single location, users will have to provide location data, but the service provider will have to provide customers with a mechanism for entering and updating this information.

Incumbent local exchange carriers, who provide much of the infrastructure for 911 service, must make the networks available to any carrier requesting the service.

The FCC called the order a 'balanced approach, that takes into consideration the expectations of consumers ' and the needs of entities offering these innovative services.'

Reaction to the order was mixed. Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said the 'ruling seems to test the outer limits of the FCC's jurisdiction' by imposing social obligations on technology providers. 'There is no compelling need for the commission to apply social regulations to information services,' Miller said.

The National League of cities praised the order, saying that the regulatory differentiation between information and telecommunications services has become unrealistic.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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