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Traditional telephone services have generally associated a particular telephone number with a fixed address. Portable interconnected VoIP services enables consumers to take their home or business telephone service almost anywhere. Because certain interconnected VoIP services are portable, or can be used from virtually any Internet connection anywhere, the location of the caller may not be capable of being determined automatically.
This portability raises a number of challenges for the emergency services community. Although the FCC has taken action to make sure that emergency calls from these VoIP services will get through to the appropriate public safety authorities, there are still possible differences between VoIP E911 and traditional wireline E911 service.
When a person call 911 from a traditional telephone, the call in most cases is sent to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that is responsible for helping people in a particular geographic area or community. PSAP personnel often can automatically identify the caller's location and direct the closest emergency personnel to that location. They also often can automatically identify the caller's telephone number so that they can call back if the caller is disconnected.
VoIP 911 Services Edit
Because VoIP service works differently from traditional phone service, consumers who use it should be aware that VoIP 911 service may also work differently from traditional 911 service. VoIP service providers, in response to FCC action, are making progress in eliminating these differences, but some of the possible differences include:
- VoIP 911 calls may not connect to the PSAP, or may improperly ring to the administrative line of the PSAP, which may not be staffed after hours, or by trained 911 operators;
- VoIP 911 calls may correctly connect to the PSAP, but not automatically transmit the user's phone number and/or location information;
- VoIP customers may need to provide location or other information to their VoIP providers, and update this information if they change locations, for their VoIP 911 service to function properly;
- VoIP service may not work during a power outage, or when the Internet connection fails or becomes overloaded.
FCC requirements Edit
To reduce these differences, and any possible risks to public safety posed by interconnected VoIP 911 service, the FCC has imposed the following requirements:
- All interconnected VoIP providers must automatically provide 911 service to all their customers as a standard, mandatory feature without customers having to specifically request this service. VoIP providers may not allow their customers to "opt-out" of 911 service.
- Before an interconnected VoIP provider can activate a new customer's service, the provider must obtain from the customer the physical location at which the service will first be used, so that emergency services personnel will be able to locate any customer dialing 911. Interconnected VoIP providers must also provide one or more easy ways for their customers to update the physical location they have registered with the provider, if it changes.
- Interconnected VoIP providers must transmit all 911 calls, as well as a callback number and the caller's registered physical location, to the appropriate emergency services call center or local emergency authority.
- Interconnected VoIP providers must take appropriate action to ensure that their customers have a clear understanding of the limitations, if any, of their 911 service. All providers must specifically advise new and existing customers, prominently and in plain language, of the circumstances under which 911 service may not be available through the interconnected VoIP services or may in some way be limited in comparison to traditional 911 service. They must distribute labels to all customers warning them if 911 service may be limited or not available and instructing them to place the labels on and/or near the equipment used in conjunction with the interconnected VoIP service.
- Interconnected VoIP providers must obtain affirmative acknowledgement from all existing customers that they are aware of and understand the limitations of their 911 service.