11th Hour Extension For Customer VoIP Lockout

UPDATED: For the third time in as many months, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is delaying its order that Internet telephone providers cut off service to customers who have not acknowledged the possible limitations of Voice over IP E911 calling services.Because the nomadic nature of VoIP allows users to place and receive calls from any broadband connection, Internet telephone companies frequently route E911 calls to public safety administrative offices instead of directly sending the calls to Public Service Answering Points (PSAPs).

The inability of VoIP users to reach immediate help led to tearful witness testimony> before4 Congress on VoIP E911 limitations in a crisis. The FCC responded by mandating that all VoIP providers that interconnect with the public switched telephone network (PSTN) must route all VoIP E911 calls directly to emergency dispatchers along with the location of the caller.

The FCC gave the VoIP providers until the end of November to comply with the order. Additionally, in the name of public safety, the FCC ruled that all VoIP providers inform their subscribers of the service’s E911 limitations and required customer acknowledgement of those limitations by the end of July.

For those VoIP subscribers who did not affirmatively reply to the E911 warning, the FCC said Internet telephone companies must cut off their service by the end of July. That deadline has twice extended to midnight tonight.

Tuesday’s latest extension gives VoIP providers until Oct. 31 to gain affirmative acknowledgements from their customers.

“It is evident that many providers have devoted significant resources to notifying each of their subscribers of the limitations of their 911 service and obtaining acknowledgements from each of their subscribers,” The FCC ruled Tuesday. “The majority of providers submitting September reports have obtained acknowledgments from nearly all, if not all, of their subscribers.”

According to FCC filings, at least 21 providers have received acknowledgments from 100 percent of their subscribers and at least 32 others have obtained acknowledgements from 90 percent or more of their subscribers.

According to FCC filings, Vonage has received acknowledgements from 98 percent of its million plus customers. SBC (Quote , Chart ) and Qwest reported 100 percent compliance. Cable broadband operators also report near 100-percent compliance.Vonage, the nation’s largest VoIP provider, reported it has obtained 98 percent compliance from its more than 700,000 customers. SBC (QUOTE NYSE:SBC> and Qwest reported 100 percent compliance. Cable broadband operators also report near 100-percent compliance.

“In recognition of these substantial efforts and the very high percentage of received acknowledgments, the [FCC] announces that it will not pursue enforcement action against such providers,” The agency stated in its order.

Less than a week ago, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told a Senate panel he had no plans to again extend the deadline for cutting off service to VoIP subscribers. However, in August, the FCC said it might consider a “soft” cutoff of services where all non-E911 calls would be blocked, but emergency calls would be still be routed to appropriate PSAPs.

“As the [FCC] understands it, the soft disconnect procedure will either disallow all non-911 calls or intercept and send those calls to the provider’s customer service department,” an FCC notice stated in August. “Under this ‘soft’ disconnect procedure, however, calls to 911 will continue to go to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point.”

The soft cutoff is gaining in popularity among VoIP providers as an alternative to terminating paying customers. Vonage plans just such an action if the FCC approves the plan.

Notices to Vonage customers who have not acknowledged the E911 limitations seems to indicate the FCC is amenable to soft disconnections.

“We have sent numerous notifications requiring you to view a notice on our 911 dialing,” the company’s warning letter stated yesterday. “Pursuant to an order from the Federal Communications Commission, if you do not acknowledge this notice by 11:59 p.m. on September 27, we are required to restrict your outbound calling for your Vonage service.”

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