Telephone customers who use the relatively new Voice over Internet Protocol technology to power their phones need to understand how 911 dialing works. If they don’t, they’ll lose their phone service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Here’s the reason: In the past, when emergency calls were received by 911 call centers from VoIP lines, the operators had no information as to the whereabouts of the caller. Unlike traditional landline phone service, which attaches detailed location information to all phone numbers, VoIP lines have no information. In the case of an emergency, when callers sometimes cannot give his or her location, this information is crucial to saving lives.

That’s when E911 for VoIP was introduced to solve the problem. (It stands for, “Enhanced 911.) It allows VoIP phone numbers to contain the same location data as regular phone lines do, but there are a few kinks in the system.

VoIP phone service is powered by the internet, so there’s no way to tell exactly where the VoIP call is coming from. The location data, therefore, has to be entered in by the user. This raises a problem, however. VoIP lines are portable; if a customer moves from, say, Minneapolis to New York City, and does not update their address with the system, serious problems can arise.

Not only will a Minneapolis 911 call center be called if the customer dials 911, but the call center will be given the customer’s previous address. (Dispatching police incorrectly to a Minneapolis residence, for example). It is for this reason, that the FCC wants all customers to understand how E911 works.

And, if they don’t acknowledge their understanding, they won’t have phone service. It’s that simple, says the FCC. To date, an estimated 100,000 VoIP customers still have not acknowledged their understanding – which prompted a move by the FCC last week.

The FCC said on Friday that it is extending a deadline, which used to be today, to September 28 to give VoIP providers more time to contact their customers.

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Sounds perfectly reasonable for customers to be cut off from a service if they deliberately or through ignorance (despite attempts to teach them which are obviously being made) cause problems with that service.

It's no different from people being cut off from 911 calls who repeatedly make fake calls as a joke (why it would be funny to place fake calls to an emergency service is beyond me, but there are people who think it's hillarious to see the police screaming through the street every day to non-existent emergencies at their neighbours' addresses).

These people won't be cut out of 911 service, they'll lose their phone service all together. And not for causing problems, rather for not acknowledging they understand new rules.

Yeah, that seems a little too punitive, but I also agree that it's unexcusable for anyone to fail to acknowledge. Still, failure to acknowledge understanding of the e911 service doesn't necessarily cause a problem with the service that's being cut off.
Seems to me, a good solution would be for the VoIP provider to simply have a message pop up on the phone that won't allow the customer to make a call until he or she listens to a description of e911 and presses a prompt to acknowledge it. I think this provides just enough discomfort to nudge the customer without being so punitive.

Not knowing the history of the case I'd not be surprised if this is a last step the FCC takes after customers and VOIP providers refused to acknowledge more friendly things like that.

Maybe the FCC proposed a system like that but the providers refused to implement it because it would "inconvenience" their customers?

I see nothing wrong with cutting the customers off. I would bet any customer who loses phone service will immediatly contact (call?) their VoIP provider and at that time they can acknoledge the new rule, the phone company can restore their service, and everyone can get on with their lives.

I would guess that when someone does move their VoIP to a different city they need to get a new area code, at which time their location information could be updated. A more significant problem would be people moving within the same area code.

Perhaps one solution would be for the VoIP providers to send an address update card to their customers with every bill, which they could send back with their new address if it has changed. I guess this doesn't solve the problem for those who have their credit cards billed though. Perhaps the FCC should just resign itself to the fact that people too stupid to update their address will be taken out of the gene pool.

When a person with VoIP service moves out of their area code, they don't necessarily need to have it changed. In fact, many people don't get a number in their own area code to begin with. This is part of the charm of VoIP and also part of this problem. Your number can be in any area code you choose.
Also, many customers elect not to receive a paper bill in the mail even if they don't have their card auto-billed. I still think a message on the phone is the best position to take between cutting off service and not getting people to acknowledge the facts about e911. I DON'T think people are, or should be called, stupid over this. Foolish maybe.

I realize they aren't forced to get a new area code, but if people in their area are going to call them and not get charged for long distance they would need to. My assumption is that most people get an area code in the area they reside.

Your assumption is probably correct. I suspect that very few people get those "remote" area codes.

If the FCC needs to mandate anything, it should be a two tier service level - BASIC (no 911) and ENHANCED (completely e911 compliant). The misunderstandings, lawsuits, and deadlines we now see today are the direct result of the FCC's inability to tackle this problem early on, leaving a confusing and variable "middle-ground" of 911 scenarios. And, they KNEW it was coming. Some VoIP providers are already e911 compliant. A 2-tier scenario would allow market pressure, not mandates, to determine who offers what. And consumers wouldn't have cut-offs to worry about, they'd have 2 distinct "options" to consider - a provider who offers no 911 service at all, or a provider who offers 911 service as the term "911" is traditionally understood.

Just a followup to my last comment. VoIP providers could ask one simple question to determine whether a customer qualifies for full 911 service:

1) ___yes ___no - Do you plan to use your VoIP phone solely in your permanent residence?

If the answer is "yes," you'd qualify for e911 service. If your answer is "no," you'd be given three options:

1) Sign an agreement stating you understand that 911 calling will not work if you go mobile ... or move to another permanent residence without informing your new provider (and getting a new number if your area code changes).

2) Get VoIP service without 911.

3) Get a cellphone.

It's really a no-brainer.

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