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Vonage May Route VoIP 911 Call To Congress And FCC


Vonage In Print News

Vonage May Route 911 Call To Congress, FCC

March 30, 2005

By Ben Charny

Internet phone provider Vonage may ask Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to help it solve problems with SBC over subscriber access to the 911 emergency call network.

SBC's decision not to work more closely with Vonage, made public Wednesday, may delay efforts to fix the problem that keeps a majority of U.S. Net phone providers from successfully routing 911 calls to the right emergency calling center. Many of those 911 calls are instead sent to non-emergency operators, with no guarantee the calls will reach dispatch centers close enough to provide the most effective help.

In mid-February, Vonage asked SBC, BellSouth, Qwest and Verizon, the nation's largest local phone companies collectively known as the Bells, to provide access to their 911 infrastructure within the next 60 days. At first, it appeared the logjam had been broken: SBC met with Vonage to work out the logistics; Verizon, the largest Bell, also committed to testing just such a system; and Qwest, the smallest of the Bells, began considering its options.

While Verizon and BellSouth are now cooperating, SBC has refused to do so, telling the FCC that Vonage and other Net phone providers need to develop a standard way to route the 911 calls appropriately. What Vonage was asking to test, SBC claimed, was a proprietary fix. "SBC can not agree to engage in numerous individual tests with each and every Voip provider," it recently told the FCC, referring to the Net phone technology also known as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). A spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz said Vonage is considering asking Congress and the FCC to demand SBC open up its 911 infrastructure to Vonage and other Net phone operators. In rebuking SBC's proprietary claim, Schulz said operators Packet8, AT&T's CallVantage and Verizon Communications VoiceWing Net phone service all use the same 911 products, "so how can SBC call what we're doing proprietary?"

Qwest has also not responded to the Vonage letters. Of the four Bells, Qwest appears to be the furthest along in working with Vonage. It already successfully tested such access for Vonage emergency calls in Kings County, Wash., and is now weighing its options.

Voip calling has long posed a problem for 911--a result of the technology behind Internet calling. The calls are packaged in the Internet Protocol (IP), the same routing instructions that form the backbone of the Internet. Voip services, as a result, can be much cheaper because the calls aren't subject to the same expensive federal and state telephone rules the Bells and other traditional phone operators must follow.

The 911 headaches come on a number of levels. Even if Voip providers do get direct access to the 911 infrastructure, most of the emergency call centers can't yet deal with IP phone calls. That's the result of tight state and federal budgets that leave them with little to spend on new gear, plus the perception among police officials that there's little reason yet to perform the costly conversions.

There's also a regulatory conundrum that would require the Bells to bend the rules a bit to help a competitor. Any Voip carrier wanting to directly connect to the 911 system must be a certified carrier. That's fine for deep-pocketed corporations that can afford to hire lawyers and regulatory lobbyists to track, obey and even influence the rules. It's not so easy for small Voip start-ups.



 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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