May 23, 2005

FCC and E911 Ruling

Last week FCC issued an order requiring E911 service from interconnected VoIP providers. Just as I have done, I am sure that by this time you also would have read many news items and blog entries discussing this ruling. But I am a bit confused about the specific definition of the term. Since we do not have access to the full ruling, we have to go by the explanatory remark made in the press release. The point of this entry is to suggest that a VoIP service provider, who is otherwise not interconnected, can become interconnected by actions taken by external third parties and so the commission will be required to provide additional explanation.

The press release says that interconnected VoIP providers “are similar to traditional telephone providers in that they enable customers to receive calls from and terminate calls to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).” It goes on to say that “it does not place obligations on other IP-based service providers, such as those that provide instant messaging or Internet Gaming
Services, because although these services may contain a voice component, customers of these
Services cannot receive calls from and place calls to the PSTN.” Well and good.

As a practical matter, E911 service will require interconnection to PSTN, both In and Out. The PSAPs will not be ready to accept native IP traffic within 120 days. So Out service is required if users have to call E911 service. Since the emergency operators must be able to call back, the users must subscribe to In service as well. So bundling of both In and Out is a requirement.

But there is a problem with this definition. Any service provider can become an interconnected VoIP provider by the actions of an external third party. For example, users of both AOL IM and Yahoo IM can make calls to PSTN through Net2Phone. Given the revenue potential of terminating calls from PSTN, somebody can decide to offer to terminate calls from PSTN on behalf of users of these two IM services, with or without their explicit concurrence. In this case, are AOL IM and Yahoo IM interconnected VoIP providers? If FCC clarifies their definition to protect against this, then any service provider who does not want to offer E911 access, just have to unbundle the In and Out services. So in the final analysis, the recent FCC ruling is directed to the incumbents that they have to provide access to E911 network for any willing VoIP service provider who offers both In and Out services. FCC is not going to require a VoIP provider to offer access to E911; they have given even allowance for anyone to claim an exemption. It is the market that may demand this.

Posted by aswath at May 23, 2005 04:59 AM
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Except Net2Phone uses a PC to make PC to PSTN calls and not an ATA. That difference of how the outbound call is made, may be the "test" of if the VoIP provider is "interconnected" or not.

I'll assume at this time, if the outbound call is made via an ATA device, it will be an interconnected VoIP call.

Posted by: Frank Muto at May 24, 2005 08:11 AM

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