Can the VOIP 911 Problem Be Solved?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-05-22 Print this article Print

Opinion: The immediate situation caused by the FCC is confusing and not a real solution. The long term is murky, but look for VOIP vendors to roll back some of the freedoms they gave to users.

Theres a lot of confusion out there over VOIP and 911 services. In the wake of Thursdays FCC order to the VOIP industry to provide E911 services within 120 days, I have to count myself among the confused.

First, I hope to clear up some confusion. There are a lot of people who think that, as a general matter, VOIP doesnt have 911 service. This isnt true. The truth is far more complicated. Some VOIP providers provide full E911 service, and others provide none.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

The actual FCC order hasnt yet been published, but we do have a press release they issued along with short statements from each of the commissioners. The press release includes descriptions of the order, including the following points:
  • It applies to companies that provide phone service that allows customers to make and receive calls on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).
  • 911 calls must be delivered to the customers local emergency operator, and this must be a standard, not optional, feature.
  • The provider must provide number and location information to the operator. This is what it defines as "E911" service. The FCC presumes that the information will need to be self-reported, so the provider must provide the customer with a means to change the location information if they change the location of the VOIP TA (terminal adapter).
  • Providers must inform their customers of all these changes by the effective date.
  • ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers), like Verizon and SBC, must provide access to their E911 networks to any carrier.
  • The deadline is 120 days from May 19, 2005.
Next page: The implications of the order.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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