FCC Poised to Strengthen VoIP Emergency Access Requirements

Regulation Watch

FCC Poised to Strengthen VoIP Emergency Access Requirements

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

On Sept. 23, 2010, the FCC (News - Alert) released a notice of inquiry aimed at strengthening VoIP E911 rules. 

First, the NOI asks whether the FCC should require interconnected VoIP providers to provide location information to public safety answering points “without the customer’s active cooperation.” The NOI also asks if IVPs, as it refers to VoIP provider in the document, should be required to “incorporate an ability to automatically detect a user’s Internet connectivity, identify a user’s location, and prompt a user to confirm his/her location, prior to enabling calling features.” The NOI also asks whether VoIP terminal adapters should be required to be capable of providing location information automatically.

Another significant issue raised in the NOI is whether the FCC’s E911 rules should apply to non-interconnected VoIP service providers. Specifically, the NOI asks if such obligations should apply to services “that enable users to terminate calls to the PSTN, but do not permit users to receive calls that originate on the PSTN,” or vice versa (i.e., outbound or inbound only services, or such services that can be coupled together to create a two-way calling service by the user). The FCC also asks if it would it be necessary to extend to non-interconnected VoIP providers rights of access to any and all capabilities necessary to provide 911 and E911 service from entities that own or control those capabilities, and what a reasonable timeframe for newly-covered providers to meet such requirements would be. 

This far-reaching proceeding is one of the most significant for VoIP providers in recent years. The FCC may significantly strengthen E911 responsibilities of IVPs and equipment manufacturers, and impose new requirements for automatic identification of the user’s location, and may also require a new set of providers to begin offering E911 service to subscribers.

William B. Wilhelm (News - Alert) is a partner and Jeffrey R. Strenkowski is counsel at the global law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP (www.bingham.com).

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi