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A Reminder About VoIP & 911
Voice over IP services and service providers used to exist beyond the regulatory fray. At that time, they were entirely new, and government policymakers weren’t quite sure whether or how to regulate them.
But over time the use of VoIP-based services became more widespread, and regulators realized they needed to bring these services into the fold to protect businesses and consumers. One flash point that led to this took place in 2005 when a Vonage (News - Alert) customer couldn’t reach 911 emergency services using the company’s VoIP services. Some Vonage subscribers were shot and their child tried unsuccessfully to use the VoIP service to call 911 for help. This led to a Texas lawsuit and calls for VoIP services to include support for 911 as a default (rather than an optional) capabilitiy.
Ultimately, regulators put such requirements in place. In fact, today the Federal Communications Commission has rules requiring VoIP providers to ensure proper configuration of Enhanced 911 services.
To reduce possible risks to public safety, the FCC requires interconnected VoIP providers to:
Automatically provide 911 service to all customers as a standard, mandatory feature. VoIP providers may not allow customers to "opt-out" of 911 service.
Obtain a customer's physical location prior to service activation, and provide one or more easy ways for customers to update the location they have registered with the provider if it changes.
Transmit all 911 calls, as well as a callback number and the caller's registered physical location, to the appropriate emergency services call center or local emergency authority.
Take appropriate action to ensure customers have a clear understanding of the limitations, if any, of their 911 service. They must distribute labels warning customers if 911 service may be limited or not available and instruct them to place the labels on or near equipment used with VoIP service.
Obtain affirmative acknowledgement from all customers that they are aware of and understand the limitations of their 911 service.
Ensure that a 911 call is routed to the appropriate PSAP in areas where emergency service providers are not capable of receiving or processing the location information or call back numbers not automatically transmitted with 911 calls.
Edited by Maurice Nagle