Enhanced 911 Services Now Mandatory for VoIP Providers
In Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) FCC 05-116, the Commission requires "interconnected VoIP providers" (voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP) to provide enhanced 911 (E911) emergency calling capabilities to their customers as a mandatory feature of the service.
The Order defines an interconnected VoIP provider as bearing the following characteristics: (1) the service enables real-time, two-way voice communications; (2) the service requires a broadband connection from the user's location; (3) the service requires IP-compatible customer premises equipment (CPE); and (4) the service offering permits users generally to receive calls that originate on the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and to terminate calls to the PSTN.
The Order does not place obligations on other IP-based service providers, such as those that provide instant messaging or Internet gaming services, because customers of those services cannot receive calls from and place calls to the PSTN, even though the services may contain a voice component. The Commission makes no findings regarding whether a VoIP service that is interconnected with the PSTN should be classified as a telecommunications service or an information service under the Communications Act. The Commission declines to exempt providers of interconnected VoIP services from liability under state law related to their E911 services.
Enhanced 911 service
An interconnected VoIP provider must transmit all 911 calls, as well as a call back number and the caller's "Registered Location" for each call, to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), designated statewide default answering point, or appropriate local emergency authority that serves the caller's Registered Location and that has been designated for telecommunications carriers under section 64.3001 of the rules. Those calls must be routed through the use of Automatic Numbering Information (ANI) and, if necessary, pseudo-ANI, via the dedicated Wireline E911 Network, and the Registered Location must be available from or through the Automatic Location Identification (ALI) Database. However, an interconnected VoIP provider need only provide such call back and location information as a PSAP, designated statewide default answering point, or appropriate local emergency authority is capable of receiving and utilizing.
Interconnected VoIP providers may satisfy the requirement by interconnecting indirectly through a third party such as a competitive local exchange carrier (LEC), interconnecting directly with the Wireline E911 Network, or through any other solution that allows a provider to offer E911 service. Noting that it requires LECs to provide access to 911 databases and interconnection to 911 facilities to all telecommunications carriers under the Telecom Act, the Commission expects that this would include all the elements necessary for telecommunications carriers to provide 911/E911 solutions that are consistent with the requirements of the Order, including NENA's I2 or wireless E911-like solutions. The Commission also notes that incumbent LECs are increasingly offering E911 solutions that allow VoIP providers to interconnect directly to the Wireline E911 Network through tariff, contract, or a combination thereof.
The Commission recognizes that compliance is dependent on the ability of the interconnected VoIP providers to have access to trunks and selective routers via competitive LECs that have negotiated access with the incumbent LECs, through direct connections to the incumbent LECs, or through third-party providers. The Commission expects and "strongly encourage[s] all parties involved to work together to develop and deploy VoIP E911 solutions," pointing out that "incumbent LECs, as common carriers, are subject to Sections 201 and 202." The Commission states it will "closely monitor" those efforts within the industry and "will not hesitate to take further action should that be necessary."
Service level obligation
The obligation to determine what type of information, such as ALI or ANI, each PSAP is capable of receiving and utilizing rests with the provider of interconnected VoIP services. The Commission declines at this time to adopt performance standards regarding how much time may elapse after an end user updates the Registered Location before the provider has taken such actions as are necessary to provide that end user with the level of E911 service specified in the Order. The Commission requests comment on whether such performance standards are necessary and, if so, what form they should take.
Interconnected VoIP providers must obtain, and facilitate updating of, customer location information. Interconnected VoIP providers may not require subscribers to "opt-in" or allow subscribers to "opt-out" of 911 services, and VoIP providers must notify their customers of the limitations of their 911 service offerings.
Registered location requirement
Interconnected VoIP providers must obtain from each customer, prior to the initiation of service, the physical location at which the service will first be utilized. Providers of interconnected VoIP services that can be utilized from more than one physical location must provide their end users one or more methods of updating information regarding the user's physical location. The Order declines to specify any particular method, but requires that any method utilized allow an end user to update his or her Registered Location "at will and in a timely manner," including at least one option that requires use only of the CPE necessary to access the interconnected VoIP service. The Commission cautioned interconnected VoIP providers against charging customers to update their Registered Location. The most recent location provided to an interconnected VoIP provider by a customer is the "Registered Location." Interconnected VoIP providers can comply with this requirement directly or by utilizing the services of a third party.
Noting that explanations of the limitations of 911-like service in the Frequently Asked Questions sections on web sites or in terms of service may not be sufficient, the Order requires all providers of interconnected VoIP service to "specifically advise every subscriber, both new and existing, prominently and in plain language, the circumstances under which E911 service may not be available through the interconnected VoIP service or may be in some way limited by comparison to traditional E911 service." VoIP providers must obtain and keep a record of affirmative acknowledgement by every subscriber, both new and existing, of having received and understood that advisory. In addition, interconnected VoIP service providers must distribute to all subscribers, both new and existing, warning stickers or other appropriate labels warning subscribers if E911 service may be limited or not available and instructing the subscriber to place them on and/or near the CPE used in conjunction with the interconnected VoIP service.
All interconnected VoIP providers must submit a letter to the Commission detailing their compliance with the rules within 120 days after the effective date of the Order. The letter and all other filings related to the Order should be filed with the Commission's Secretary in WC Docket No. 05-196 on a going-forward basis.
Interconnected VoIP providers must comply with the new rules, and submit to the Commission a letter detailing their compliance, no later than 120 days after the effective date of the Order (which will be the date of publication in the Federal Register). It is likely the Commission will expedite the process and publish in the Federal Register in no more than 30 days, which would make the effective date around early November 2005.
Notice of proposed rulemaking
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requests comment on additional steps the Commission should take to ensure that providers of VoIP services that interconnect with the PSTN provide ubiquitous and reliable E911 service. Among the issues to be considered is an advanced E911 solution that includes a method for determining the customer's location without the customer having to report that information to the VoIP provider. The NPRM asks what the Commission can do to further the development of the existing technology and whether the Commission should expand the scope and requirements of the Order.
The NPRM asks how the Commission can facilitate the development of techniques for automatically identifying the geographic location of users of portable interconnected VoIP services; those services may be offered independent of geography, and currently there is no way for portable VoIP providers reliably and automatically to provide location information to PSAPs for those services without the customer's active cooperation. A number of possible methods have been proposed to automatically identify the location of a VoIP user, including gathering location information through the use of: an access jack inventory; a wireless access point inventory; access point mapping and triangulation; HDTV signal triangulation; and various GPS-based solutions. The NPRM asks if the Commission should require all terminal adapters or other equipment used in the provision of interconnected VoIP service sold as of June 1, 2006, to be capable of providing location information automatically, whether embedded in other equipment or sold to customers as a separate device.
The NPRM also seeks comment on whether the Commission should extend the E911 obligations, or similar obligations, to providers of other VoIP services that are not covered by the new rules: for example, VoIP services that are not fully interconnected to the PSTN.
The NPRM seeks comment on the need to adopt additional regulations to ensure that interconnected VOIP service customers obtain the required level of E-911 services, posing a series of technical inquiries to solicit that information.
The NPRM also seeks comment on: (a) whether additional reporting requirements, should be imposed; (b) what role states can and should play to help implement E-911 rules; (c) whether to adopt any customer privacy protections related to the provision of E-911 service by interconnected VOIP service providers; and (d) whether persons with disabilities can use interconnected VOIP service and other VOIP services to directly call via PSAP telecommunications devices for the deaf.
Comments are due 45 days after Federal Register publication, and replies 75 days after Federal Register publication.