The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is proposing legislation to get Internet-based phone providers to give customers the same kind of access to 911 operators as those who use regular telephone lines.
His proposal comes as the Federal Communications Commission continues to study ways to regulate so-called Voice over Internet Protocol providers.
The governor's office is counting on the possibility of fines and customer lawsuits to get VoIP providers to improve 911 service.
The number of Internet phone customers nationally is expected to increase to three million by the end of the year and could be as high as 27 million by 2009, said the governor's office, citing industry estimates.
And CNet’s reporting that in Canada, meanwhile, officials have ordered fixed-line VoIP companies to establish viable 911 service support within 90 days – or shut down.
The Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission acted "in light of the limitations on 911 service," said spokesman Denis Carmel.
In the back of everyone’s mind is the incident this past February 3 rd in Houston, where 17-year-old Joyce John called 911 using Internet phone provider Vonage to report that her parents had been shot by home intruders. She got a recording telling her that access to 911 service was unavailable. Help took more than 10 minutes to arrive. Both parents survived.
It was later established that the Johns had multiple opportunities and reminders from Vonage to activate Vonage’s 9-1-1 service but had not done so. In a blatantly emotional vote-troll, the Texas attorney general sued Vonage after the incident, probably since you don’t win many votes suing registered voters who haven’t followed Vonage’s directions on how to activate their 9-1-1.
The FCC warns on its Web site that it "may be difficult" for Internet phone customers to "seamlessly connect" with 911 dispatch centers. According to Blagojevich's office, that's because traditional phone companies have not given Internet phone providers access to more than 3,200 emergency call centers nationwide.
Blagojevich spokesman Gerardo Cardenas said the governor said the companies need to figure out how to solve that problem. "We're not getting into that debate," he said. "What matters here is when you need police or an ambulance, it has to get there immediately."
If passed, Illinois' law would require Internet phone providers to offer seamless 911 service by Sept. 1 or seek a one-year extension from the Illinois Commerce Commission. Companies would be fined $1,000 to $5,000 if they did not comply.
CNet’s report says in a sign that regulators take the problem seriously, the Federal Communications Commission has quietly met with the Bell operating companies to learn why they've yet to grant Net phone providers unfettered access to their 911 telephone infrastructure, and by doing so let them offer a competitive 911 service.
The deadline in Canada will come sometime around July 4 for all Internet phone providers to have a 911 system comparable to what's now in the market. In most parts of Canada, that means an enhanced 911 system capable of letting police know the caller's location. The operator must otherwise shut down.
Sources told CNet that U.S. lawmakers are now being asked to draft rules requiring the Bells open their 911 infrastructure to Net phone providers.
David Sims is contributing editor and CRM Alert columnist for TMCnet.
To discover how contact centers can save money and increase productivity by making the switch to IP Telephony, be sure to attend TMC's IP Contact Center Summit May 24-26, 2005, in Dallas, Texas. IP Contact Center Summit is co-located with the Speech-World conference, where you can get expert guidance in the deployment of speech technologies to strengthen customer relationships.