In my last column, “VoIP’s 911 Dilemma,” I wrote about the current legal challenges Vonage faces surrounding its disclosure of the inadequacies of its emergency calling services and the inherent problems regarding VoIP 911 in general. As I was sitting down to write this month’s column, more news relating to this issue hit the wires.
On one front, Vonage’s legal challenges continue to grow. On May 3, the Attorney General of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, following in the footsteps of the AG of Texas, also sued Vonage, accusing the company of “misleading customers” about the limits of 911 emergency calling over its service. There’s also some talk that Michigan lawmakers are threatening to take action.
The charges relating to the Connecticut action are the same as that in Texas: that Vonage is misrepresenting it 911 services by failing to fully disclose that 911 calls are not handled the same way as emergency calls over traditional circuit-switched POTS, and that such 911 calls may take longer to connect or could in fact, go unanswered. As in Texas, Connecticut is asking that Vonage amend its marketing practices and seeks unspecified financial penalties. The suit in Connecticut was spurred by a Vonage customer who dialed 911 during a medical emergency, and because he wasn’t registered with Vonage for emergency services, couldn’t reach emergency personnel for assistance.
While my position is the same as it was last month, that these suits are without merit due to the fact that I believe Vonage does in fact disclose the drawbacks to its emergency calling service in both Web site notices prior to sign-up and e-mails sent to new customers both during and after the activation of a new account, the actions by these state lawmakers has certainly made VoIP emergency calling a top concern among federal and state regulators, and a growing headache for Vonage.
While fuller disclosure will certainly alert more people to the problem, it doesn’t do anything to actually fix it. However, there is a way to fix the 911 problems plaguing VoIP and that is for VoIP providers to gain access to the traditional 911 network used by the ILECs and RBOCs today — something that Vonage has just accomplished through an unprecedented agreement with Verizon.
On the same day as the Connecticut action, Vonage announced a breakthrough agreement with Verizon to access elements of the wireless and wireline Enhanced 911 network. As a result this new collaboration, Vonage will able to deliver a comprehensive emergency calling service for both nomadic and native VoIP calls, and provide a caller’s location and call-back number to emergency services personnel for 911 calls placed throughout Verizon’s territory, just like with a traditional circuit switched call. Verizon is the first RBOC to work closely with any VoIP service provider to ensure emergency calling keeps pace with VoIP technology.
Now, when a Vonage customer dials 911, the emergency call is routed to Vonage’s 911 server using SIP. The Vonage server then queries Intrado (Vonage’s E911 service partner) for routing instructions. The call is then directed to the media gateway connection to the Verizon network, over a dedicated physical circuit connected directly to Verizon’s selective router that serves the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
At the same time, Intrado places the customer’s address and telephone number into the Automatic Location Information (ALI) database. This information is included in the call signaling, and allows the PSAP 911 operator to pull the customer’s address and phone number from the ALI database.
Verizon’s wholesale group has committed to offer Vonage the following elements on a commercial basis for the deployment of NENA-compatible Enhanced 911 within Verizon’s 28-state territory:
• Direct trunking to the more than 100 Verizon-owned selective routers,
• The provision of wireless components enabling non-local numbers to call 911, and,
• An ALI-steering agreement for Intrado.
Vonage, Verizon, and Intrado intend to implement this new E911 solution throughout the Verizon territory within six months. To implement this solution, Verizon will perform all necessary modifications and translations to the network elements in each PSAP service area that bundle the ALI and selective routing infrastructure. The proposed solution is also compliant with NENA’s proposed I2 technical standard.
Hopefully, this new agreement will set the stage for a new level of cooperation between all VoIP providers and incumbent telcos, and ultimately be the solution to VoIP’s 911 dilemma. IT
Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.