The FCC this week ruled that VoIP service providers must offer access to 911 emergency calls within the next four months or they will not be able to offer service in the US. The ruling marks a radical departure from the hands-off regulatory approach that marked the tenure of former FCC Chairman Michael Powell. The FCC didn't order the incumbent telecoms to provide direct access to their 911 systems, but the FCC warned that it expected their cooperation. Several incumbent telecoms have recently begun to voluntarily offer 911 access for a fee to some Internet phone service providers.
The decision is getting a mixed reception from industry insiders. Some see the ruling as a positive step forward. They hope the ruling will compel the incumbents to open up their E911 systems to Internet phone companies. Others see the decision as useless regulation that probably cannot be enforced. Requiring E911 access in such a short period of time could force many smaller VoIP startups out of business. There is also no way to gauge how this decision will affect peer-to-peer Internet telephony services like Skype. The FCC's decision on VoIP also stands in stark contract to the commission's regulations on E911 for cellular carriers. Despite missing deadlines, cellular E911 rollouts are still not complete, with larges parts of the country still without coverage.
For more on the FCC's E911 decision:
- read this report from today's Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)