VOIP service providers have one more week until the July 29 Federal Communications Commission deadline that requires them both to inform their customers that they do not offer as yet enhanced 911, or E911, functionality that people take for granted from traditional mobile and landline carriers and to obtain what the FCC calls an "affirmative acknowledgment" from their customers that shows they understand the situation.
Voice over IP service providers VoicePulse and Vonage have taken a variety of steps to get their customers to supply them with the needed affirmative acknowledgment during the 30 days they were given after the FCC ruling went into the federal register June 29.
Vonage senior vice president of corporate communications and regulatory affairs Brooke Schulz explained that Vonage has taken a few different tacks in making sure its customers understand that Vonage as yet does not offer E911 service and affirmatively respond.
According to Schulz, the first level of notification Vonage is using is a special Web page that pops up when a customer logs into his or her account online.
The page requests that users read the information and acknowledge their receipt of that information before continuing on to their account page, where users may check their bills and change features, among other things.
VoicePulse has offered a similar Web page for its users when they try to log into their accounts.
Ravi Sakaria, CEO of VoicePulse, said that 10 percent of customers within a three-day span accepted using this approach.
VoicePulses second line of attack was to send out a mass e-mail to its customers Wednesday, asking them to log into their account, read the information and reply affirmatively.
In the next two days, VoicePulse also will send a letter to customers who havent responded.
"[Both are] something we never do, so hopefully our customers wont be in the habit of ignoring [them]," Sakaria said.
Vonage and VoicePulse each mentioned several other ways to contact hard-to-reach customers, and both said that they are looking into other means of communication with the week they have left.
However, the FCC has not as yet given VOIP carriers guidelines on what steps they should take for their customers who do not respond with an affirmative acknowledgment by the deadline.
Sakaria said that his company has spent a lot of money on lawyers to get some legal insight into the matter.
"The problem is, theyre operating in a vacuum. The answers have been all over the spectrum," Sakaria said.
Similarly, Schulz said that Vonage has asked the FCC for clarification and that the company is unsure what to do, if anything, about unresponsive customers.
For his part, IDC research manager William Stofega said that Schulzs question is a good one.
"Would Vonage become liable? Should they stop serving those customers?" Stofega said.
"I would think that a best-faith effort to get out information should be considered reasonable. You cant expect [these providers] to personally visit 1,000 customers," Stofega said.
The bottom line, according to Stofega, is that the FCC has been deliberately vague so that it can clean up the messes it has made in setting up these regulations and requirements.
"I feel a little bit for Vonage and the other next-gen carriers. Theyre exposed to damages as they, to their best ability, get involved in a regulatory game they didnt create," Stofega said.