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Why Not E911 For Everyone?

Vonage In Print News

January 17, 2006

By Staff

Recently at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show, New Telephony sat down with Vonage Holdings Corp. CEO Jeffrey Citron to talk about the companyís progress with E911 and its plans for the future. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

NT: We have received a number of press releases from you in recent weeks about new regions added to your E911 coverage. How much of the country do you have covered?

JC: What we are doing is trying to roll out the services as fast as we can. Also, you run into challenges because you have to work with ILECs and rural local exchange carriers. But we are going full speed ahead.

We wanted to do E911, and frankly itís good for business. I believe the number [has hit] about 40 percent, and a month ago it was about 25 percent.

As we turn markets on, we want to be sure that those in the markets know that Vonage has E911. And thatís important, if we want to sell in that market. We have alerted the press by putting out releases about every other week for the last four weeks.

Obviously our customers are very mobile. Thatís one of the challenges that we have. And we check customers that migrate to new markets, looking every month where they move to. When we see a lot of people going to one area, we will start order processing for coverage. So we try to accelerate E911 in markets that customers move to.

Really no one has complete E911, because E911 does not exist everywhere. So that will always be a challenge. As we come across PSAPs that are not E911-capable or that have not been tested yet, we work to get them tested, working with the E911 coordinators.

Over 10 million Americans do not have E911 from their wireline network. Cell phones, less than half have 911.

We are very proud to endorse the NENA (National Emergency Number Association) i2 standard (a standard for E911 that includes VoIP). The irony is that it came out after the 28th of November (the FCC deadline for E911 in VoIP), but we knew what it would look like. We may have to rebuild some things to get to the standard, but we can do that in the next year.

Also, we support the recommendation to the FCC on PSAPs by the North American Numbering Council (NANC) and ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions) (two leading telephony technology organizations, which recommended the appointment of an administrator to compile and maintain a database of pANIs, pseudo automatic number identifiers, needed for nomadic VoIP).

We are hoping in the new year we will get the administrator. Itís hard to do E911 without it. ... That slows us down and makes it more of a challenge and, in the worst case, doubles the work, because we roll out with something nonstandard and, when they build pANIs, we have to redo the system to be standard. It is a colossal wasted effort. ... Wireless has the same problem. They canít get pANIs either, so they use routable numbers and no one (no PSAP) likes that.

NT: What is needed to make the appointment of a pANI administrator happen?

JC: It is stuck in (FCC Chairman) Kevin Martinís hands. The buck stops with him at this point. NANC is empowered by Congress and the FCC. ... Now they have made all the recommendations; all the paperwork is all submitted. There is a lot on [the FCCís] agenda and we hope that at the next meeting they will take this one.

NT: If you do not have national coverage, how can you still advertise nationally, given the FCCís ruling that Voip providers can market only where they have coverage?

JC: We do still market everywhere, but we are careful to disclose about E911. Go to our Web site and see the disclosures. How can Verizon sell its service (VoiceWing) nationally when they donít have E911? We can do regular 911, but we canít force PSAP administrators to upgrade their PSAPs (to E911) or put in capabilities, like a selective router. Thatís what each E911 authority has to do in its system.

Verizon has jurisdiction without E911 in some areas, and in New York City there is no E911 for cell phones. Forget VoiceWing, not even Verizon Wireless.

Probably Congress should step in and say 911, first responders, is really a national item. Maybe merging authorities or closer oversight of the 911 network by Homeland Security would make sense. If there is a big disaster Homeland Security might be involved.

NT: I have heard Homeland Security is frustrated with 911.

JC: Yes, itís terrible. They canít believe that they canít get access. In Katrina you could dial 911, but the call had nowhere to go because the infrastructure is so old. With Voip we are talking about modern advanced technology, world-class state-of-the-art, and we have to dummy it down to 1970s infrastructure. But donít blame the states or PSAPs. Blame the funding. There have been bills in the House to make it illegal to divert 911 monies, but they failed.

NT: We have heard that some PSAPs are asking for testing, and sometimes money for that testing.

JC: Yes, if we test, we pay the fee. We will not let money stop a deployment. For us it has just taken time to deal with the pANI technology obstacles, especially, until recently, not having a standard. Now it is going well; it is smooth and operational.

NT: Have you heard anything about the pANI administrator from the FCC?

JC: We donít know what the FCC is going to do. The last thing we want to do is to have them do battle with Voip operators. But itís not just Voip any more. They have to reconcile this to wireline, wireless and VoIP, and that means [they] have to recognize for the first time in this county that 10 million Americans have no 911 on their wireline phones. When they recognize that, then we can resolve all these issues. If the FCC believes that everyone with Voip should have E911, then everyone should have E911. ...

We want E911 for everyone and want to make that happen. So we are working with a lot of groups, working on a way to apply E911 to PSAPs that now have no way to do it or [are] not doing it. We have a new standard. If a PSAP does not have E911 now, thatís a perfect candidate for a greenfield deployment. Maybe we will see [that] this year.

NT: Would you fund someone to do it as a showcase?

JC: Yes, we are putting a lot of our own money into developing the i3 application (a fully IP E911 system being developed by NENA). Maybe it would not be as rich initially as standard E911, but if they canít afford standard E911, but they can get something better this way, that can help move things in right direction. And the states are not the enemy. It is expensive to run E911. This old technology is not cheap. It is costly to maintain and repair, and in some cases we can make phone service cheaper than E911 for a customer.

NT: But with i3 E911 is cheaper?

JC: A lot cheaper, because you use the power of the Internet. The old fancy databases are hard to use. [With IP] you would not have to do the difficult conversion from postal addresses to multistreet addresses (a system used by many PSAPs), no conversion. You can use a standard data set. So a vendor would not have to customize an application 6,000 times.

NT: Is all this a tremendous financial drain?

JC: It is expensive. Some argue that we should have gone straight to i3, but we are happy that it went to i2. We are not happy that the FCC could have made it a lot easier and cheaper in i2 if they had done a few things differently. They could have done better timing, so we had the standard first. Then we would not have to rebuild, and what would help is a pANI administrator. And if the FCC felt it did not have a tool for liability protection and wiring access elements, if the FCC had gone to Congress and asked them to provide that right [away], it could have short-circuited the hard questions and provided consistency across the board.

NT: You have $250 million in new funding. What do you plan to do with it?

JC: A big chunk is helping to pay for the E911 rollout, and fund continuing operation and expansion. We are expanding E911, and that is a big chunk of capital. And the rest is for more normal purposes.

NT: Are you considering buying something?

JC: There is nothing on tap now. Doing E911 over a couple of years will probably cost $50 million to do and operate. It will cost more because of the timeline (just 120 days to implement). It is unfortunate government will not reimburse us for 911. A lot of that was originally paid for by government.

NT: What are your strategies for expanding into Europe and Asia?

JC: We are already in the U.K. We will continue to evaluate other opportunities in Europe and Asia-Pacific, but we are exploring where [to] go now.

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ÜAK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ÜÜLimited 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. ÜVALID 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 for details.

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