Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Internet Phones Given 911 Deadline

Filed under
Sci/Tech

Internet phone providers were ordered Thursday to begin supplying reliable 911 emergency call service after regulators heard an anguished Florida woman describe how she was unable to summon help to save her dying infant daughter.

The Federal Communication Commission gave companies that offer telephone service over the Internet 120 days to certify that their customers will be able to reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911. Also, a dispatcher will have to be able to tell where a caller is located and the number from which he is calling.

Her voice breaking, Cheryl Waller of Deltona, Fla., told the commissioners that "120 days is seven days longer than my daughter lived." Julia Waller "died at 113 days old because I can't reach an operator," her mother said.

Cheryl Waller said she got a recording when she used her Internet phone to call 911 after her daughter stopped breathing last March. By the time she was able to summon help with a neighbor's phone, the child was dead.

The chairman, Kevin J. Martin, said situations like that are "simply unacceptable."

"Anyone who dials 911 has a reasonable expectation that he or she will be connected to an emergency operator," Martin said.

Internet phone service, known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, shifts calls from wires and switches, using computers and broadband connections to convert sounds into data and transmit them via the Internet.

In many cases, subscribers use conventional phones hooked up to high-speed Internet lines.

Unlike traditional phones, which have a fixed address that a 911 operator can quickly call up, Internet phone service can be mobile. Someone with a laptop who signs up for service in Arizona, for example, may end up calling 911 for an emergency while on a trip to Boston.

Roughly half of the nation's 1.5 million or so VoIP users are served by cable television companies that already provide full-blown 911 capabilities because they only offer phone service to a fixed location.

The FCC's order requires companies that allow customers to use their Internet phones anywhere there is an Internet connection to provide the same emergency capability.

The order follow months of finger-pointing and bickering between VoIP carriers and the traditional local phone companies that own the network connections to the nation's nearly 6,200 "public safety answer points."

The FCC order, approved by a 4-0 vote, requires that local phone companies provide access to their E-911 networks - those that enable emergency operators to identify the location and telephone number of the caller - to any telecommunications carrier.

Just before the FCC issued its order, Vonage Holdings Corp., one of the largest VoIP carriers, said it had reached an agreement with BellSouth and SBC Communications to purchase E-911 services for its customers.

BellSouth confirmed the deal. A spokesman for SBC said the arrangement has not been completed. Vonage reached a similar deal with Verizon last week.

John Rego, Vonage's chief financial officer, said arrangements with the three companies will enable Vonage to provide E-911 capability to more than 75 percent of its customers. He said negotiations with Qwest Communications on a deal to cover the other 25 percent are continuing.

"We've been trying to get this access for a year," Rego said. "We'll work as diligently as we can to make this happen in the next 120 days. If we don't get there, the FCC will at least be able to see we've made a very good faith effort."

Under the order, VoIP carriers must provide a way for customers to update their location and callback numbers when they travel. Failure to update that information would cause an emergency operator to assume the call was coming from the last registered location.

The order also requires VoIP carriers to explain to their customers the capabilities and limitations of the emergency response service they are getting with their Internet phones. Connection to a 911 operator, for example, would not be possible for a VOIP customer if there is a power failure or loss of Internet connection.

Internet phone service usually is cheaper than traditional service, ranging from $20 to $50 per month for an unlimited national calling plan. As a result, it has become a rapidly growing industry, something federal regulators said they did not want to slow.

But, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, "We cannot let our desire to see VOIP proliferate come at the cost of providing the best emergency services available today, nor can we afford to take any steps backward."

The order does not apply to other Internet based providers, such as those that offer instant messaging or gaming services that contain voice components.

DAVID PACE
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Android Leftovers

Gaming News: SHOGUN, Reus, Two Worlds and More

Security Leftovers: WCry/Ransomwar, WannaCry, Athena

OSS Leftovers

  • Nextcloud 12 Officially Released, Adds New Architecture for Massive Scalability
    Nextcloud informs Softpedia today about the official availability of the final release of Nextcloud 12, a major milestone of the self-hosting cloud server technology that introduces numerous new features and improvements. The biggest new feature of the Nextcloud 12 release appears to be the introduction of a new architecture for massive scalability, called Global Scale, which is a next-generation open-source technology for syncing and sharing files. Global Scale increases scalability from tens of thousands of users to hundreds of millions on a single instance, while helping universities and other institutions significantly reduce the costs of their existing large installations.
  • ReactOS 0.4.5 Open-Source Windows-Compatible OS Launches with Many Improvements
    ReactOS 0.4.5 is a maintenance update that adds numerous changes and improvements over the previous point release. The kernel has been updated in this version to improve the FreeLoader and UEFI booting, as well as the Plug and Play modules, adding support for more computers to boot ReactOS without issues.
  • Sprint Debuts Open Source NFV/SDN Platform Developed with Intel Labs
    AT&T has been the headliner in the carrier race to software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). But Sprint is putting its own stamp on the space this week with its debut of a new open source SDN/NFV mobile core solution.
  • Google’s New Home for All Things Open Source Runs Deep
    Google is not only one of the biggest contributors to the open source community but also has a strong track record of delivering open source tools and platforms that give birth to robust technology ecosystems. Just witness the momentum that Android and Kubernetes now have. Recently, Google launched a new home for its open source projects, processes, and initiatives. The site runs deep and has several avenues worth investigating. Here is a tour and some highlights worth noting.
  • Making your first open source contribution
  • Simplify expense reports with Smart Receipts
    The app is called Smart Receipts, it's licensed AGPL 3.0, and the source code is available on GitHub for Android and iOS.
  • How the TensorFlow team handles open source support
    Open-sourcing is more than throwing code over the wall and hoping somebody uses it. I knew this in theory, but being part of the TensorFlow team at Google has opened my eyes to how many different elements you need to build a community around a piece of software.
  • IRC for the 21st Century: Introducing Riot
    Internet relay chat (IRC) is one of the oldest chat protocols around and still popular in many open source communities. IRC's best strengths are as a decentralized and open communication method, making it easy for anyone to participate by running a network of their own. There are also a variety of clients and bots available for IRC.