VoIP Off The E911 Hook -- Sort Of

The FCC will allow current customers to maintain service but E911 is required for new customers.

By Roy Mark | Posted Nov 8, 2005
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Internet telephone companies do not have to disconnect their existing customers by Nov. 28 even if the Voice over IP provider does not offer full E911 emergency calling.

That's the good news, according to a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order (PDF file) issued Monday night. The bad news: The companies can't market their service to any more new customers without fully provisioning E911.

Monday's order reverses the disconnection requirement ordered in May for existing customers. However, it upholds the mandate against offering any new service without E911, a provision the Internet telephone firms say is impossible to meet by Nov. 28 and will be financially disastrous to the quickly emerging industry.

"Internet telephone providers do not have to cut off U.S. subscribers even if they are not provided enhanced 911 emergency service," the FCC order states. "We do expect that such providers will discontinue marketing VoIP service, and accepting new customers for their service, in all areas where they are not transmitting 911 calls."

Last week, VoIP wholesaler Nuvio and other VoIP providers went to federal court seeking an immediate stay of the FCC order.

Jason Talley, CEO of Nuvio, said the 120-day VoIP E911 implementation period is arbitrary and capricious since the wireless industry was given 10 years to meet its E911 obligations.

"At first blush, it appears they [FCC] are making some concessions on existing customers, but it still smacks to me of protectionism for the RBOCs and cable companies," Talley told internetnews.com.

Overall, Talley said, the Monday FCC order "doesn't answer many of our issues and concerns."

The FCC is expected to file its response to Nuvio's stay request later today in the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals in Washington.

Siding with Nuvio and the other VoIP providers, the Senate Commerce Committee last week approved legislation calling for a phased VoIP E911 implementation. The bill would force the FCC to take into consideration the "technological and operational feasibility" of rolling out E911 VoIP services.

The legislation, even if ultimately passed by the Senate and House, is not likely to become law before the end of the month, putting the issue fully in the hands of the court.

"We are quite concerned about the ban on signing up new customers, as well as the marketing restrictions included in the notice," a Nuvio spokesman said in an official statement. "We look forward to reviewing the FCC's brief in response to our request for a partial emergency stay with the U.S. Court of Appeals, which is due today at 4 p.m."

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