The FCC’s recent VoIP E-911 Order imposed a number of significant obligations upon “interconnected” VoIP service providers, including cable operators offering VoIP-based phone services. Among those is the obligation to advise every new and existing subscriber, prominently and in plain language, of the circumstances under which E-911 service may not be available through the interconnected VoIP service or may be in some way limited by comparison to traditional E-911 service. In addition, providers must obtain and keep a record of affirmative acknowledgement by every subscriber, both new and existing, of having received and understood the advisory.
The VoIP E-911 Order will become effective on Friday, July 29. Although providers are not required to fulfill the E-911 service obligations imposed under the Order for another 120 days, until Nov. 28, 2005, the notice and acknowledgement obligations described above are effective on July 29.
Unfortunately, the FCC’s Order did not address a provider’s obligation if the provider does not, or cannot, obtain the affirmative acknowledgement described above. This and other implementation issues have raised serious concerns for many service providers attempting to comply with the Order.
Perhaps in response to the concerns raised by these providers the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a notice on Tuesday July 26 detailing specific actions that providers can take to comply with these obligations. Specifically, the Enforcement Bureau has announced that it will not initiate enforcement actions until Aug. 30, if the provider files a “detailed report” with the Commission by Aug. 10. The detailed report must include:
- A description of all action the provider has taken to specifically advise every subscriber of the circumstances under which E911 service may not be available;
- A quantification of how many of the provider’s subscribers, on a percentage basis, have submitted an affirmative acknowledgement, as of the date of the report, and an estimation of the percentage of subscribers that the provider expects not to have acknowledgement by Aug. 29;
- A description of whether and how the provider has distributed warning stickers or other appropriate labels to all subscribers;
- Identification of the percentage of customers to whom the provider did not send the advisory described above, and/or to whom the provider did not send the warning sticker;
- A description of any and all actions the provider plans on taking towards any of its subscribers that do not affirmatively acknowledge having received and understood the advisory, “including, but not limited to, disconnecting the subscriber’s VoIP service” after Aug. 30;
- A description of how the provider is currently maintaining any acknowledgements received from its subscribers; and,
- The name, title, address, phone number, and email address of the person(s) responsible for the provider’s compliance with the VoIP E-911 Order.
The Notice effectively gives providers an additional thirty days to advise subscribers of limitations with respect to E-911 service and to obtain an affirmative acknowledgement from each subscriber of such notice. At the end of that period the FCC states that it expects providers to “disconnect” all subscribers that have not affirmatively acknowledged receipt of the notice.
The FCC’s guidance, though helpful in the short term, represents the first formal statement from the FCC of its position that lack of acknowledgement may require a provider to disconnect its subscriber. Notably, the FCC does not state that the service must be “terminated”—only that the service be disconnected from the subscriber. This suggests that there may be some type of interim action that providers can take to comply with this guidance, without formally terminating service to the end user.
The FCC’s most recent action demonstrates an apparent intent to move swiftly to penalize providers that do not comply with the VoIP E-911 Order. We therefore encourage all interconnected VoIP service providers to dedicate appropriate resources to these issues and to contact us if any questions or issues arise.