by CIO Staff

Vonage E911 Availability Nears 85%

Aug 16, 20064 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Vonage Holdings has implemented enhanced 911 emergency dialing service on nearly 85 percent of its customers’ lines, but the company says it continues to have problems in areas served by AT&T.

Vonage is the largest U.S. provider of residential voice-over-IP (VoIP) service. Vonage’s E911 adoption is up from 26 percent at the end of November 2005, when a U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deadline passed for VoIP providers to offer E911 to their customers. That month, the FCC backed off an earlier requirement that VoIP providers cut off customers who could not receive E911. With E911, emergency dispatchers can see the address where the 911 call originated.

Vonage is working hard to get the remaining 15-plus percent of its customers access to E911, said Steve Seitz, the company’s vice president of 911 regulatory affairs.

Slow E911 implementation in areas served by AT&T local phone service—large parts of the U.S. Midwest and Southwest—is largely keeping Vonage from delivering E911 to about 95 percent of its customers, Seitz said. In AT&T territory, about 63 percent of Vonage customers have access to E911, while 90-plus percent of Vonage customers in territories served by Verizon Communications and Qwest Communications International have E911, Seitz said.

“We think it’s going to be an uphill battle to get that [AT&T] percentage on par with the other carriers,” Seitz said.

A “hodgepodge” of issues remain in AT&T territory, Seitz said. “Our goal is not to get into a tussle with AT&T,” he added. “Our goal is for every Vonage customer to have E911.”

In a July 28 filing with the FCC, Vonage accused AT&T of not giving dispatch centers—known as public safety answering points, or PSAPs—the connections needed to implement E911 for Vonage. AT&T has been slow in some states to allow PSAPs access to its database linking phone numbers to locations, and it has delayed PSAP access to some telephone network routers, Vonage said in the filing.

AT&T disputed Vonage’s complaints, calling them “vague.” Robert Quinn, AT&T’s vice president of federal regulatory affairs, points the finger back at Vonage, saying the company’s continued decision to allow customers to choose new phone numbers with nonlocal area codes causes complications. PSAPs must upgrade their technology to allow wireless phones to transmit location-based information, and those upgrades are up to local governments, not AT&T, Quinn said.

Some VoIP providers have promoted out-of-area-code phone numbers as a way for customers to cut long-distance calling costs to relatives or friends living in another part of the country.

“The biggest issue is some [Vonage customers] have an Austin, Texas, phone number when they live in Virginia,” Quinn said.

Some PSAPs in AT&T’s territory are slow to adopt the wireless E911 capabilities, Quinn said. In Oklahoma, about 1 percent of PSAPs have the wireless capability, while Massachusetts, in Verizon territory, has 100 percent of its PSAPs moved to the wireless technology, AT&T said.

The process of connecting VoIP customers to E911 is complicated, Quinn said. AT&T’s own VoIP service provided E911 to 85 percent of its customers as of mid-July. But Quinn pointed back to Vonage’s out-of-area-code number transfers as a likely problem.

“Don’t point the finger at me because of the marketing decisions they’ve made,” he said. “I challenge them to tell us what it is that they think we’re supposed to be doing for them.”

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)

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