The ability to access emergency services by dialing 911 is a vital component of public safety and emergency preparedness. Recent reports of consumers’ inability to access life-saving emergency services while using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services have highlighted a critical public safety gap. The FCC has taken steps to close this gap by imposing Enhanced 911 (E911) obligations on providers of “interconnected” VoIP services. Interconnected VoIP services are those that use the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), including wireless networks, to originate and terminate calls. E911 systems automatically provide to emergency service personnel a 911 caller’s call back number and, in most cases, location information.
In May 2005, the FCC adopted rules requiring providers of interconnected VoIP services to supply 911 emergency calling capabilities to their customers as a mandatory feature of the service by November 28, 2005. “Interconnected” VoIP services are VoIP services that allow a user generally to receive calls from and make calls to the traditional telephone network. Under the FCC rules, interconnected VoIP providers must:
- Deliver all 911 calls to the local emergency call center;
- Deliver the customer’s call back number and location information where the emergency call center is capable of receiving it; and
- Inform their customers of the capabilities and limitations of their VoIP 911 service.
The Federal/State Task Force
Access to 911 emergency services is an issue that affects us at all levels – national, state, and local. Therefore, the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (“NARUC”) formed the Joint Federal/State VoIP Enhanced 911 Enforcement Task Force to facilitate compliance with and enforcement of the FCC’s VoIP 911 rules. The Task Force, which consists of staff from the FCC and State Public Utility Commissions, will coordinate closely with the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, and state and local 911 authorities. The Task Force’s mission is to develop educational materials to ensure that consumers understand their rights and the requirements of the FCC’s VoIP 911 Order; develop appropriate compliance and enforcement strategies; compile data; and share best practices.