Since Americans were first able to dial "9-1-1" to reach emergency services in 1965, the public increasingly has come to depend on 9-1-1 in times of crisis. The communications industry, the states, and the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") have worked hard to ensure that 9-1-1 is almost universally available on traditional wireline and wireless phones so that the public has access to emergency services.
Telecommunications capabilities have advanced considerably since 1965. Most wireline 9-1-1 service has been enhanced ("E9-1-1") with the ability to provide caller identification and location information to the call answering center ("E9-1-1") and the FCC has established a program to require wireless telephone carriers to provide E9-1-1 capability. Not long ago, however, the states and the FCC began to recognize that consumers may not always understand that E9-1-1 and basic 9-1-1 services may work differently - or not at all - over Voice over Internet Protocol ("VoIP") services. Because in many cases, VoIP services operate much like traditional telephone service, including the capability to make calls to and receive calls from users on the traditional telephone network, some customers assume that these services also offer comparable access to 9-1-1 services.
In May 2005, the FCC adopted rules that respond to the threat that such misunderstandings pose to public safety. The FCC adopted rules requiring providers of interconnected VoIP services to supply 9-1-1 emergency calling capabilities to their customers as a mandatory feature of the service by November 28, 2005. "Interconnected" VoIP services are VoIP services that allow a user generally to receive calls from and make calls to the traditional telephone network. Under the FCC rules, interconnected VoIP providers must:
- Deliver all 9-1-1 calls to the local emergency call center;
- Deliver the customer’s call back number and location information where the emergency call center is capable of receiving it; and
- Inform their customers of the capabilities and limitations of their VoIP 9-1-1 service.
The Federal/State Task Force
Access to 9-1-1 and emergency services is an issue that affects us at all levels - national, state, and local. Therefore, the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners ("NARUC") formed the Joint Federal/State VoIP Enhanced 9-1-1 Enforcement Task Force to facilitate compliance with and enforcement of the FCC’s VoIP 9-1-1 rules. The Task Force, which consists of staff from the FCC and State Public Utility Commissions, will coordinate closely with the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, and state and local 9-1-1 authorities. The Task Force’s mission is to develop educational materials to ensure that consumers understand their rights and the requirements of the FCC’s VoIP 9-1-1 Order; develop appropriate compliance and enforcement strategies; compile data; and share best practices.