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Congress Dials Up e911 via VoIP

Congress is trying to push through rules of the road for enhanced 911 service on Internet-protocol-enabled voice services before turning its attentions to getting re-elected.

The Senate Thursday passed by unanimous consent its version of a bill that would give cable operators and other Internet-phone-service providers the same rights of interconnection as traditional 911 service to ensure that 911 calls reach a local operator and that the operator can also determine the source of the emergency call -- enhanced 911 service -- as well as similar liability relief for those taking the calls.

It would also call for the drawing up of a plan for a national IP-enabled emergency network for "citizen-activated" emergencies.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association supported the bill, saying in a letter to Senate leaders in February, "When consumers dial 911 for emergency service, they should do so with confidence that their calls for help will be answered without regard to who provides their phone service or what technology they employ."

The bill, H.R. 3403, is a compromise version of a similar bill that passed in the House. But with some amendments added on the Senate side, it now has to go back to the House for its approval, which is expected, various senators and staffers said.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said they have been working with House members and that the bill should pass quickly. "We expect the House to act expeditiously so that this bill can become law," he added, "allowing our 911 system to continue to save lives and ensuring that individuals can always call for help regardless of the underlying technology they use.”

The Federal Communications Commission paved the way for e911 service in 2005 with mandates that voice-over-IP providers deliver 911 service that linked to local operators after hearing from a parade of witnesses who talked of children dying and family members put at risk after calls to VoIP e911 services that did not do so.