FCC Extends VoIP E911 Notice Deadline

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday gave Voice over IP
providers another 30 days to inform their Internet telephone
subscribers of the E911 limitations that come with the service.

Under the new FCC order, customers who do not acknowledge the
limitations will have their service cut off on Sept. 28, although the FCC
left open the possibility of “soft” disconnection or suspension methods.

The 30-day extension allows interconnected VoIP providers to continue to
obtain acknowledgements from subscribers and minimize the number
subject to potential disconnection.

In May, the FCC said that all Internet telephony
companies that interconnect with the public switched telephone network
(PSTN) must route VoIP-orginated E911 calls directly to emergency
dispatchers along with the location of the caller. The FCC said this had to be done by the end of November.

As an interim step, the FCC also ordered VoIP providers to notify
subscribers that their E911 service is different from traditional emergency
calling services and required acknowledgements by the end of
July. That deadline was later extended to the
end of August as long as the provider filed a report on its acknowledgement
efforts by Aug. 10.

“The Bureau has reviewed numerous reports filed by VoIP providers,” the
FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said in a statement. “The reports demonstrate the
significant efforts made by providers in complying with the 100 percent
affirmative acknowledgement requirement.”

The statement added, “The [Enforcement] Bureau expects that all
VoIP providers . . . will continue to use all means available to them to obtain
affirmative acknowledgements from all of their subscribers.”

The FCC also cited the example of New York City-based Broadview Networks’
“soft disconnect” approach as an alternative to cutting off the service of
VoIP subscribers who refuse to provide an affirmative acknowledgement.

The procedure will either block all non-911 calls or intercept and send
those calls to the provider’s customer service department, where the company
can explain the need for an acknowledgement.

Under this soft disconnect approach, however, calls to 911 will continue to
go to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point.

“A provider’sreports [to the FCC] must include either a statement that the
provider will use a “soft” disconnect (or similar) solution as of September
28, 2005, or a detailed explanation of why it is not feasible.”

Vonage, the nation’s largest independent VoIP provider with approximately
750,000 subscribers, is taking a soft disconnect approach for its
recalcitrant subscribers, informing them in a Friday e-mail that without an
affirmative acknowledgement, “We will be required to restrict your outbound
calling for your Vonage service.”

The new FCC extension also comes on the heels of numerous requests by VoIP
providers for more time to implement the agency’s E911 rules.

In the latest of these appeals, the VON Coalition, a lobbying group of VoIP
providers and equipment makers, sent a letter Thursday to FCC Chairman Kevin
Martin calling for more time to implement the agency’s E911 rules.

“We believe that consumers should not be inconvenienced or potentially
placed in harm’s way by having their VoIP service disconnected,” the letter
states. “Otherwise, terminating VoIP service to businesses and consumers
would inevitably impede commerce . . . and could even leave VoIP customers
stranded in an emergency.”

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