Moving at an unprecedented pace — on April 4th, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (“CRTC”) issued a Decision concerning emergency service obligations for providers of voice over Internet Protocol services. By the time you read this article, the FCC will likely have also issued its own decision on VoIP 911 deployment. As the first decision of its kind however, the Canadian decision is a milestone since it clearly foreshadows a new area of regulatory and legal scrutiny for VoIP providers and the way they market and provision their services.
In its order, the CRTC surprised some by developing a 911 emergency service obligations for both “nomadic” and fixed VoIP services. The CRTC defines those services covered by the Decision to include any VoIP service that provides subscribers access to and/or from the PSTN along with the ability to make and/or receive calls that originate and terminate in an exchange or local calling area.
The CRTC states in its Decision that it was cognizant of the technical and operational challenges associated with provisioning 911/E911 service with VoIP services offered on a nomadic basis or through the use of foreign exchange telephone numbers (i.e., service with a telephone number that is not native to any of the exchanges within a customer’s public safety answering point (“PSAP”) serving area).
The requirements for fixed VoIP services is somewhat less flexible than for nomadic providers. Specifically fixed VoIP providers must offer emergency services equivalent to those offered by the ILEC operating in the relevant geographic area by July 4, 2005. Thus, if an ILEC is providing E911 service, the fixed provider of VoIP services will also be required to provide E911 services.
E911 service, according to the CRTC, includes all of the capabilities provided by Basic 911 service as well as Automatic Location Information (“ALI”) functionality and call control features, which ensures that a 911 caller’s name, telephone number (listed or unlisted), address, type of service, and other pertinent information is downloaded from an ILEC maintained database and automatically transferred to the PSAP along with each incoming 911 call. The CRTC is also imposing on fixed VoIP providers the customer notification and 911 funding requirements set forth above.
In considering “nomadic” VoIP, the CRTC directed Canadian carriers and VoIP providers offering these “nomadic” or foreign exchange VoIP services, in areas where 911/E911 service is available from the ILEC, to implement an interim solution by July 4, 2005 (90 days from the date of the Decision), and to provide a level of service functionally comparable to “Basic 911.” Basic 911, according to the CRTC, consists of routing 911 dialed calls to a designated PSAP for all 911 calls originating within a specific geographic area. A PSAP agent then connects a 911 caller to the required emergency services agency (police, fire and/or ambulance). The PSAP agent typically sees the caller’s telephone number, but not the caller’s location information. Because it is not currently technically possible to route these calls directly to PSAP agents the CRTC will allow for the possibility of an “interim” solution where an emergency call would be connected to an intermediary who in turn transfers the call to the proper PSAP or emergency services agency.
All VoIP service providers that cannot meet the CRTC deadline for an interim solution were required to apply by May 4, 2005 for an extension. The CRTC Decision further directs Canadian carriers to ensure that a 911 call originating from a VoIP service is not routed to a PSAP that does not serve the geographic location from which the call is placed.
The CRTC decision also touches upon notification and customer consent. Specifically, Canadian carriers are also directed to obtain from their customers express consent to the limitations of 911 call delivery. The CRTC states that express customer consent may include: written consent; oral confirmation verified by an independent third party; electronic confirmation through the use of a toll free number; electronic confirmation via the Internet; oral consent, where an audio recording of the consent is retained by the carrier; or consent through other methods, as long as an objective documented record of customer consent is created by the customer or by an independent third party.
Troubling to many, however, are the additional notification requirements imposed by the CRTC Decision — indeed similar such limitations in the United States might be subject to very serious Constitutional challenges. In Canada however, the CRTC requires VoIP providers to provide customer notification regarding any 911 service limitations both before service commencement and during service provision. Under the CRTC Decision, initial customer notification is to be made available through all of the following: marketing materials used for television, radio and printed media, the terms and conditions of service, online material, customer service representatives, service contracts, and starter kits. Further, ongoing customer notification must be made available through all marketing materials used for television, radio and printed media, the terms and conditions of service, online material, customer service representatives, warning stickers affixed to telephone sets and billing inserts.
Additionally, the CRTC directs that information regarding limitations on 911/E911 service be accessible to persons with visual disabilities, and that all customer notification and any printed information used to secure the express customer consent must be provided in alternative formats (e.g., Braille and large print), upon request. Local VoIP service providers are also required, at a minimum, to explain any 911/E911 limitations upon request. IT
William B. Wilhelm is a Partner in the firm of Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, LLP. For more information, please visit www.swidlaw.com. The preceding represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily represent the views of Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, LLP or its clients.
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