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November 29, 2005

911 deadline passes

VoIP carriers in the US could be barred from signing up new customers in many markets because they have failed to meet a deadline to provide reliable emergency 911 service to all subscribers.

By CBR Staff Writer

Citing public safety concerns, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May ordered companies selling VoIP to ensure that callers can reach an emergency dispatcher when they dial 911. The dispatchers also must be able to tell where callers are located and the numbers from which they are calling

The deadline to show the government where 911 is available was November 28, 2005. House and Senate lawmakers had urged FCC chairman Kevin Martin to give companies more time, but no extension was granted.

The FCC has given market leaders Vonage and AT&T and other providers of Internet-based phone service 120 days to comply with its order requiring enhanced 911 in all their service areas.

Vonage admits that only 26 per cent of its customer base has full 911 services. The company says it can transmit a callback number and location for 100 per cent of its subscribers, but is waiting for cooperation from competitors that control the 911 network.

AT&T does better, estimating that 65 per cent of its customer base has 911 service.

The telco lobby in Washington has not had much success in changing the FCC’s decision. Members of Congress, including the chairmen of the influential House and Senate commerce committees, which handle telecom legislation, had asked FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin, left, to relax the rules on the companies.

But so far, this has been having little effect. At this stage we are focused on the compliance filings that are due from the providers, said an FCC spokesman.

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In fact, the Commission has already rolled back its deadline for complying with its requirements three times, and has let providers keep selling services even though they may not include 911.

But it’s also unclear exactly what the punishment for non-compliance will be as the FCC has issued nothing stating what it plans next.

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