Tuesday, July 26, 2005

VoIP E911 Notification

Jeff Pulver points to an FCC public notice regarding the notification requirement for interconnected VoIP providers to tell their subscribers that 911 might not work on their VoIP service.

I have to say I find disturbing the requirement that service providers disconnect all customers who have not affirmatively acknowledged the notification. As Jeff points out (I haven't independently checked his numbers, but see no reason to dispute them), 1.5M landlines in the US do not have E911, and significant numbers of wireless phones do not have E911, but there has been no requirement on ILECs or Cellular carriers to get affirmative acknowledgdment from these customers, and especially none to shut off service to customers who don't affirmatively acknowledge.

Is the public interest better served by customers not having VoIP service at all than by customers having VoIP service without E911? How does this square with the logic that the public interest is better served by ILEC and Cellular customers having service without E911?

(Let's ignore for the moment that the ILECs that do not provide E911 are typically rural independent telcos, which have an inordinate amount of lobbying clout.)

If you're an ILEC customer without E911, it's OK for the ILEC to give you a phone line without E911, because they're often the provider of last resort - if they don't give you a phone line, you don't have a phone line. But if you're a VoIP subscriber, I guess the logic is that you can always get phone service from the ILEC if the VoIP service provider cuts you off.

But isn't that a regulatory impediment to competition? If the FCC considers intermodal competition (e.g., cable companies competing with telcos for telephone service) a better method of ensuring consumer protection than, for example, regulations like local service unbundling, shouldn't they at the very least be avoiding asymmetrical regulation (such as requiring VoIP service providers to notify - and collect affirmative acknowledgement - of E911 limitations, but not requiring the same of telcos)?

This only applies out in the boondocks, where independent telcos don't provide E911, you say? Well, let's look at some of Packet8's caveats about when E911 may not work as expected, for example:
  • When there is an electrical power outage, service outage or suspension/disconnection of Packet8 service due to billing or other issues.
  • When a change of address has been reported, but not yet been updated on the Packet8 account.
  • When the local PSAP receiving Packet8 E911 emergency service calls does not have a system configured for E911 services that enables the operator to capture and/or retain automatic number or location information.
  • When due to technical factors in network design and/or in the event of network congestion on the Packet8 network, a Packet8 E911 call may produce a busy signal or experience unexpected answering wait times and/or take longer to answer.
Those could apply to my landline just as easily. If the ILEC has a service outage, my E911 service won't work. If I move and my ILEC drops the ball getting my new address into ALI, my E911 service won't deliver the correct address. If the PSAP can't receive or capture ANI/ALI, they won't get it. If there's a major emergency that results in mass calling, my E911 calls may not get through right away. But my ILEC isn't required to notify me of these limitations (I wonder how many people realize that telco switches have line concentration, and particularly in newer developments served by digital loop carriers, if everyone in their neighborhood picks up the phone and tries to call 911 at the same time, many of them won't even get a dial tone, let alone get through to the PSAP), and clearly aren't required to cut off my phone service if I don't affirmatively acknowledge these limitations.

Again, I fail to see how, in a deregulatory model that is supposed to encourage competition over regulation, imposing asymmetrical regulation like this is in the public interest.

I'm also trying to figure out exactly how you put a warning sticker on a softphone, but that's another topic...