Early Adopters, Late Acknowledgers

Early adopters, it appears, are late acknowledgers. If they don’t change
their ways, they may also be without any E911 services if the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) has its way.

Citing public safety concerns, the FCC ruled in May that all Internet
telephony companies that use the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to
either begin or terminate Voice over IP calls must provide
E911 services for subscribers by the end of the year.

In addition, the FCC dictated that all providers must inform their
subscribers of E911 VoIP limitations such as its inability to locate calls
other than the registered address of the user. The nomadic aspect of VoIP
allows users to make calls from any location with a broadband connection.

To further hammer the point, the FCC also decreed that each provider must
obtain an affirmative acknowledgement from each subscriber that they
understand the limitations.

That has proven harder than most thought.

“There’s quite a few [subscribers] out there who have done nothing yet,”
Jason Talley, CEO of VoIP wholesaler Nuvio, said.

That could prove to be expensive for VoIP providers since the new FCC rules
require the providers to cut off service by Sept. 1 for subscribers who have
not affirmatively acknowledged the warnings sent to them.

In report filings last week with the FCC, various VoIP providers reported
varying degrees of success in getting affirmative acknowledgements from
their subscribers.

Vonage, the nation’s largest independent VoIP provider with approximately
750,000 subscribers, said 90 percent of its customers had affirmed the E911
warnings sent to them. That still leaves 75,000 paying customers in danger
of using their telephone service.

“Although Vonage believes that it can achieve even higher rates of
responsiveness [by Aug. 29], the company anticipates that despite its best
efforts, Vonage will not be able to obtain affirmative acknowledgement from
a minority of its subscribers,” Vonage stated in the FCC report.

Time Warner Cable, the number two provider of VoIP with 614,000 subscribers,
doesn’t think the FCC rules apply to its VoIP product run over the cable
giant’s hybrid fiber-coaxial lines since the service can’t be used in a
nomadic way.

Nevertheless, “out of an abundance of caution,” it is also informing
customers of certain VoIP E911 limitations.

“Time Warner Cable has sent to all subscribers for whom it has a valid
e-mail address on file an electronic version of the E911 notifications,
which directs subscribers to a toll-free telephone number or Website to
submit their acknowledgement,” Time Warner told the FCC. It did not submit
any estimates of acknowledgement rates.

Smaller providers such as Virginia-based SunRocket with 35,000 subscribers
also report an approximate 90 percent acknowledgement rate.

“It’s increasing steadily every week and we’re moving closer and closer to
100 percent as we continue to alert customers about the consequences,” Brian
Lustig, a spokesman for SunRocket, said.

All of which begs the question: Who would pay for a service and then lose
that telephone connection and E911 help by refusing to acknowledge the
company’s warnings?

“Folks who use VoIP like the anonymity of the technology,” said Stephen
Meer, chief technology officer and co-founder of VoIP E911 provisioner
Intrado. “They have early adopter attitude. The next group will be
different. We’re right on the tipping point of that happening.”

SunRocket’s Lustig said some customers don’t yet realize the warnings are
anything more than an informational outreach by the company.

“They don’t realize they have to take action. Of course, there’ll always be
customers who wait until the last minute,” Lustig said. “When they’re up
against it, they’ll acknowledge.”

Nuvio’s Talley said there any number of reasons for the lagging

“Some simply disregard the e-mail warning. Maybe their spam filter got it,
people are out of town. Just lots and lots of reasons,” he said.

Intrado’s Meer agreed with Talley.

“People get deluged a thousand times a day with lots of [e-mail] crap every
day,” he said. “Stuff gets lost.”

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking to the day when the VoIP providers have
to cut off paying customers.

“As the rule stands right now, that’s what would happen,” SunRocket’s Lustig
said. “As more information comes in, we hope some accommodation can be

If not, the FCC’s self proclaimed “light regulatory touch” on VoIP may prove
heavy handed indeed.

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