FCC Mandates Workable VOIP E911

Suggesting that lives continue to be put at risk, the FCC put internet phone service providers on notice that they must make a workable E911 emergency service part of their internet phone service offerings.

New FCC Chairman Kevin Martin led a 5-0 vote adopting the order after a parade of witnesses talked of children dying and family members put at risk by VOIP E911 service (voice over internet protocol)  that did not link to qualified operators.

The item requires that interconnected VOIP services--ones that permit calls to begin and end on traditional public switched telephone networks (PSTN)--deliver 911 calls to a local emergency operator as a standard feature rather than an option.

They must also inform their subscribers of the capabilities and limitations of their E911 service.

It also allows nomadic services--ones that subscribers can take from home to work to vacation--access to trunks and lines of the 911 network.

The order does not apply to Instant messaging, gaming or other IP services that have a voice component but that do not access the PSTN.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow applauded the FCC for the order, calling the E911 issue "of critical importance for every telephone customer, no matter what technology is used," and pledging cable's continued cooperation. 

"Every customer expects 911 to be part of their basic voice service and the cable industry has and will continue to provide this essential service to our VOIP customers," he said in a statement.

Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America used the order as an opportunity to renew his call for the FCC to mandate opening incumbent access providers' facilities to competitors to ensure that e911 is "effectively and ubiquitously" deployed.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.