Microsoft, Skype Seek 911 Exemption

With the Federal Communications Commission poised to slap emergency calling requirements on some Internet-protocol-telephony providers, Microsoft Corp. and Skype Technologies S.A. are seeking exemptions for voice traffic not routed over the traditional telephone network.

Concerned that voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services lacking reliable 911 access put lives at risk, the FCC under chairman Kevin Martin is planning to adopt 911 obligations for VoIP as early as next week, according to Medley Global Advisors analyst Jessica Zufolo.

In recent days, Microsoft and Skype have asked the FCC to exempt purely computer-to-computer VoIP services that are unable to originate or terminate calls on the traditional phone network.

Skype requires users to download free Web-based software that enables voice communications without the assignment of a phone number. Skype has been downloaded millions of times.

Microsoft’s new Longhorn operating system is expected to include updated voice-messaging and communications services.

Skype told the FCC in a May 9 meeting that because its VoIP users sign in from so many different locations, a 911 mandate would be ineffective in term of providing law enforcement with accurate information about the emergency caller’s location.

“Skype does not have access to reliable real-time location information for its users,” the company said. “Skype users typically use Skype from laptops or from several computers, logging into their Skype account from home, work, hotel rooms, airports, Internet cafes and anywhere else they have access to a computer and a broadband connection.”

A few days earlier, Microsoft representatives urged FCC officials to apply the 911 rules to VoIP services that are a replacement for the phone services with which consumers are familiar today.

“Limiting the scope to services for which the service provider assigns a unique working telephone number should help to exclude innovative conference calling and other types of VoIP service or features that are not similar to traditional local exchange service,” Microsoft said in May 8 FCC filing.

Martin became concerned about VoIP 911 issues after the Texas attorney general filed suit against Vonage Holdings Corp., a leading VoIP provider that connects calls to traditional phones. The suit came after two Vonage customers in Houston were shot multiple times in a home invasion but could not use 911 to seek assistance.