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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will eliminate one potential objection by consumers to residential voice over IP (VoIP) telephony by requiring service providers to offer Enhanced 911 (E911) calling to subscribers within 120 days of May 19.
James Crowe, CEO, Level 3 Communications, a VoIP back-end provider, lauded the ruling as evidence of VoIP's mainstream potential and a step toward broadening adoption. “We have long held that widespread adoption of VoIP as a primary service will not occur until consumers trust that it can replicate the emergency-calling capabilities of the standard telephone land line,” Crowe said.
The requirement will have limited impact on end-user equipment but might impact the cost of service as VoIP providers forge deals with ILECs (incumbent local phone companies) that route emergency calls over the traditional landline telephony network, VoIP service providers said.
E911 refers to the ability to transmit the phone number and location of a caller to emergency personnel. In its ruling, the FCC cited instances in which consumers failed to reach emergency personnel using a VoIP service despite dialing 911.
Some VoIP providers, including market leader Vonage, offer a 911 service that, until recently, could not transmit such data. Others services, like 8x8's Packet8, offer E911 as an optional feature. “The Commission is committed to allowing IP-enabled services to evolve without undue regulation. But E911 service is critical to our nation's ability to respond to a host of crises,” the Commission said.
The FCC ruling, anticipated by many providers, was preceded by announcements by Vonage that it would offer E911 in partnership with Verizon, SBC and Bellsouth.
Other providers, such as 8x8 and SunRocket, announced that they would comply at or ahead of schedule.
For its part, SunRocket announced that it expects to beat the deadline and is no longer selling its services in regions where it cannot offer E911.
“The majority of SunRocket subscribers have been provided E911 from the start, and we are extending E911 throughout our entire service footprint as fast as possible,” said Paul Erickson, chairman/co-founder, SunRocket.
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