July 26, 2005

Internet Phone Providers Given More Time on 911

WASHINGTON -- Internet telephone service providers are getting a month longer to get their customers to acknowledge they know about the limitations of dialing 911 for help, U.S. communications regulators said on Tuesday.

Concerned by several high-profile incidents where people had difficulty reaching emergency dispatchers, the Federal Communications Commission had asked Internet telephone companies to obtain customer acknowledgments of the limitations of the service by July 29.

To accommodate carrier complaints that they could not meet that deadline, the FCC issued a notice on Tuesday giving them until Aug. 10 to file a report detailing their efforts to get such acknowledgments .

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau said it will not seek action for violations against those providers until after Aug. 29.

Internet telephone providers will be required to "disconnect, no later than August 30, 2005, all subscribers from whom it has not received such acknowledgments," the FCC said.

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, providers have been under intense scrutiny after several high-profile incidents where people using an Internet phone had difficulty reaching 911 dispatchers when they needed emergency assistance.

The agency notice does not affect the Nov. 29 deadline for Internet telephone providers to ensure that calls from Internet phones to 911 are answered by emergency dispatchers and provide the caller's telephone number and location.

Vonage Holdings Corp., the biggest U.S. VOIP provider with more than 800,000 subscribers, told FCC Chairman Kevin Martin earlier this month that some of its customers could not provide an acknowledgment by July 29.

Analysts estimate about two million U.S. telephone customers subscribe to VOIP services.

"The problem is still getting to 100 percent affirmative acknowledgment that the person gives back to us," said Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz, noting that all of the company's customers have been notified.

She said the majority of subscribers have affirmatively acknowledged the notice, but Schulz said the percentage of those who have not was still in the double-digits.

The report carriers must file with the FCC must detail the steps they have taken to notify customers, how many subscribers have submitted an acknowledgment, and information on the distribution of warning labels about 911 limitations for VOIP.