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Ops See Snags with E911

Charter Communications Inc. told the Federal Communications Commission Thursday that only one-half of its phone customers have submitted the required acknowledgements of their understanding that emergency-911 service may not work in some instances, and warned it might not be able to receive confirmation from a substantial portion of the rest.

The FCC extended the deadline for MSOs with voice-over-Internet protocol services to notify their customers of potential problems accessing 911 emergency services to Sept. 28. But VoIP providers are still required to file status reports on their progress.

In its Sept. 1 filing, Charter said it expects 20% to 25% of customers will not provide an acknowledgement despite continuing efforts. Charter is finding a high level of customer frustration: People are hanging up on service representatives requesting acknowledgement or are simply refusing to provide it.

Charter also said the FCC requirement to provide a “soft” or “warm” disconnect to customers who do not provide an acknowledgment could imperil subscriber safety.

Charter said that a soft disconnect -- which would allow customers only to make 911 calls -- would make it impossible for a 911 operator to call back if the call is cut off. A soft disconnect also would make it impossible for customers to contact family members in an emergency.

Comcast -- which said it has received acknowledgements from all of its current phone customers -- also expressed concern about soft disconnects, adding in the “procedure is infeasible due to the complexity of the undertaking and the limited time frame established by the Bureau’s directive.”

Other MSOs are having better luck with customer acknowledgements, but are still having some issues.

Armstrong Digital Services, the telephone arm of Armstrong Cable, said it has received acknowledgements from virtually all of its VoIP customers, but hasn’t provided them with warning stickers -- which the FCC mandated must be attached to VoIP phones -- because they haven’t been printed yet. Armstrong plans to begin distributing the stickers by Sept. 15.

MCC Telephony, the VoIP arm of Mediacom Communications Corp., said that, as of Sept. 1, 88% of VoIP subscribers have submitted acknowledgements. Bright House Networks said about 91% of its phone customers have submitted acknowledgements, while Buckeye Telesystem said it has received acknowledgements from 60% of its customer base.

Buckeye said it doesn’t anticipate having to take action against customers because “its technicians will personally obtain acknowledgements from each and every subscriber by Sept. 22, 2005.”