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August 14, 2005

VoIP companies wait for E911 replies from customers

Leading VoIP providers in the US are still waiting for acknowledgement from customers that they know the limitations of emergency 911 access with their existing VoIP service, according to papers filed with federal regulators last week.

By CBR Staff Writer

The US Federal Communications Commission in May ordered VoIP companies to resolve 911 issues surrounding VoIP, known as E911, by late November. In the meantime, VoIP providers were ordered to ensure all customers were aware of and understand E911 limitations by August 29.

Such limitations include VoIP calls not giving emergency 911 dispatchers the same kind of information that traditional phone services do, such as the caller’s location. There also have been tragic cases where some VoIP calls were not routed to appropriate 911 staff but instead to an answering machine.

The task of informing all customers of E911 issues and then ensuring acknowledgement seems somewhat ardous. Comcast, in its FCC report, said it has been receiving acknowledgement at the rate of several hundred per day and has required a team of five full-time employees and three managers to process them.

Vonage Holdings Corp, one of the leading VoIP companies in the country, said it had heard back from more than 90% of its customers, but could not say whether it would be able to meet the August 29 deadline.

The company said it is continuing to contact and get acknowledgements from remaining subscribers, but that if it doesn’t hear back from them by the FCC’s deadline is prepared to restrict the use of their VoIP service.

Vonage is in the process of modifying its systems to ensure that … subscribers who have their service restricted can promptly submit an affirmative acknowledgement, said Vonage in its status report to the FCC. Calling restrictions would be lifted as soon as possible upon acknowledgement receipt, Vonage said.

AT&T, in its FCC report, said it expects about 10% of its subscribers would not provide acknowledgement in time to meet the deadline. On August 30, AT&T said it would disconnect service for customers who have not responded.

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So far, about 77% of AT&T subscribers had confirmed receipt of its E911 notice.

8×8 Inc, which sells its Packet8-branded VoIP service, said it had heard back from nearly 75% of its customers, but does not have an estimate of how many subscribers will get back to them by deadline date.

SBC, on the other hand, said it is not expecting one customer to return its acknowledgement form by deadline, even though that customer has confirmed receipt of the form. SBC gave no reasons for the hold out. Otherwise, SBC has acknowledgement from 94.1% of its subscriber base so far.

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