D.C. Circuit Affirms FCC’s VoIP E911 Rules
On Friday, December 15, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the FCC’s June 2005 order imposing E911 obligations on interconnected VoIP providers. The FCC’s Order requires interconnected VoIP providers to transmit all 911 calls, along with call back numbers and the user’s registered location, to the local emergency call center (known as a “PSAP”). As part of its order the FCC adopted an aggressive implementation schedule, requiring all affected entities to comply with the new rules within 120 days of the Order’s effective date. Although this litigation ensued, neither the FCC nor the courts ever stayed this obligation. Therefore, VoIP providers that did not file waiver requests were expected to comply with these rules by the end of 2005.
A number of VoIP providers challenged several aspects of the FCC’s decision, including the 120 day deadline. They argued that the 120 day deadline was not technically or practically feasible. The D.C. Circuit, however, found otherwise, relying on evidence in the record that a commercial solution was indeed readily available to interconnected VoIP providers (via a CLEC known as Intrado), and that other providers had already successfully tested E911 access for users of VoIP services. Given this evidence the Court thus concluded that the FCC was acting “well within its authority to… make predictive judgments” about the feasibility of implementing the new obligations within 120 days. The court also noted that the FCC properly found that the cost of an aggressive implementation was outweighed by the benefit of saving lives with E911 capabilities quickly deployed.
The VoIP providers also challenged the FCC’s decision because it require interconnected VoIP providers to connect to the wireline E911 network, without also imposing a corresponding duty on ILECs to provide that access. The VoIP providers were generally concerned that uncooperative ILECs could interfere with the ability of the VoIP providers to meet their own obligations. The D.C. Circuit rejected this argument as well, based on evidence that ILECs were cooperating with VoIP providers and providing access to the E911 network.
Friday’s decision marks the second time this year that the D.C. Circuit has affirmed new regulatory obligations imposed on interconnected VoIP providers. Earlier this year the court affirmed the FCC’s decision extending CALEA obligations to interconnected VoIP and broadband Internet access providers. These decisions signify the D.C. Circuit’s willingness to give the FCC wide latitude to regulate interconnected VoIP providers.
Davis Wright Tremaine counsels interconnected VoIP service providers on E911 compliance and other related regulatory issues. If you would like additional information about this decision, please contact us.