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Time's Up for VoIP Providers
[November 28, 2005]

Time's Up for VoIP Providers

TMCnet Contributing Editor

The much-dreaded November 28 deadline has arrived. As of today, VoIP carriers must have provisions in place to allow customers to reach a dispatcher when they call 911.

The controversial compliance deadline dates back to May when the Federal Communications Commission ruled that VoIP services that interconnect with the public switched telephone network (PSTN) must provide E911 operators with the locations and telephone numbers of callers. The FCC gave VoIP carriers 120 days to comply with the order or else be barred from offering Internet-based phone service to existing customers as of November 28th.

The decision drew heavy criticism from VoIP providers across the country who argued that the FCC’s order would force the withdrawal of VoIP service from the marketplace, narrow consumer choice and thwart technological innovation.

In fact, VoIP provider Nuvio of Overland Park, Kan., filed a motion for a temporary stay of the FCC order, arguing that it would be impossible to meet and would prove financially disastrous for the nascent industry. In mid-November, a federal appeals court refused to delay the FCC’s deadline.

Nevertheless, the hue and cry of carriers eventually forced the FCC to revise its stance earlier this month by stating that VoIP providers would be permitted to file a letter detailing how much of their subscriber base can receive 911 service rather than be forced to cut off callers who can’t dial into the enhanced network.

"Internet telephone providers do not have to cut off U.S. subscribers even if they are not provided enhanced 911 emergency service," the new FCC order states.

However, along with this new order, the FCC added a new requirement that VoIP stop marketing their services and accepting new customers in areas where they are not transmitting 911 calls.

According to a survey by the Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition, approximately 750,000 VoIP subscribers would have lost their service under the original FCC rules adopted in May. Still, the VON Coalition estimates that out of an estimated 2.5 million VoIP subscribers, the vast majority has managed to meet the deadline and now offer E911 for VoIP service.

"In just 120 days, the VoIP industry had dedicated itself to making substantial progress, and providing emergency solutions comparable with traditional E9-1-1 functionality a level of functionality that took the wireless industry more than a decade to begin offering," said Jim Kohlenberger, Executive Director of the VON Coalition.



Cindy Waxer is a Toronto-based freelance journalist specializing in business and technology. She has written for publications including TIME, Fortune Small Business, Business 2.0, Computerworld, Canadian Business, and Workforce Management. To see more of her articles, please visit Cindy Waxer’s columnist page.

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