About the authors
Russell Shaw Russell Shaw is a specialist in mobile computing, telephony, networking and covers these fields regularly for numerous print and online publications. Russ writes the popular IP Telephony blog on ZDNet and contributes regularly to The Industry Standard blog as well. Author of seven books, Russ' latest book is Wireless Networking Made Easy.
John Yunker John Yunker is president of Byte Level Research. He closely tracks emerging wireless technologies and their impact on consumers and carriers alike. Over the years he has written a number of major reports on technologies such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX and cellular technologies.
About this blog
Unwired studies emerging wireless technologies and how they complement and conflict with one another. Technologies covered include: Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Ultra-Wideband, Zigbee, EV-DO, UMTS, HSDPA and whatever else comes along.
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May 10, 2005

Despite the "Make Nice," Big Telco is Stalling On VoIP 911 Access

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Posted by Russell Shaw

Just in the last week three of the four major old-style regional phone companies in the U.S., have been making frantic announcements that they have been talking to Internet-phone service leader Vonage about ways to ensure that Vonage's subscriber base (600,000 and gaining weekly) can call E-911.

Count Qwest, BellSouth and SBC among the ranks of those who are promising to play nice. Verizon made a similar declaration a few weeks back.

But, as so often happens in the world of corporate speak, those announcements aren't what they seem.

What is really going on is that all of a sudden, after protesting loudly that they are under no obligation to grant Vonage rights to their E-911 infrastructures, the big telcos are playing nice for two reasons. Which are:

*They don't want to be forced into providing E-911 access.

*They don't want to get sued anymore than they have for not offering this access.

Jes' so happens that the FCC is taking up mandatory E-911 on May 17. That's a week from today. And new Chair Kevin Martin has made noises about the fact that he'd really like his staff to come up with technical guidelines for making mandatory E-911 feasible.

Do I need to tell you how like almost any enterprise, big telcos hate to be regulated? See, if they provide E-911 access to competitors such as Vonage, that would render obsolete a key marketing approach on the big telco's part. That would be because the flavor of "911" that you get in most VoIP services does not route the emergency call directly to the dispatcher.

And, if Vonage - a company that wants to eat the old Bells' lunch - gets their way, you can bet thy pippy most of the other 500 or so VoIP providers in the U.S. will insist on the same rights.

Now as to the lawsuit part, State Attorneys General in Texas and Connecticut have each sued Vonage for making misleading statements about E911 in their subscriber contracts. I have read this contract, and as I have commented elsewhere, I think the problem is not intentionally misleading wording, but the fact that these contracts are clumsily crafted and poorly arranged from a topical organization standpoint.

Such transgressions are more sins against the language than the law. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think sins against our language are actionable.

Wait, there's more. It appears almost inevitable in that hockey-deprived land north of the 49th parallel, cumpulsory emergency services access will be mandated by Canada's telecommunications regulatory agency. Looks like a 120-day countdown.

That, I must tell you, scares our telcos half to death. They are acting nice because they don't want to be told what to do.

But even if Vonage does get welcomed into the E-911 infrastructure bosom of the big telcos, that really doesn't solve all the problem. You see, if you call 911 over a VoIP connection that does not map back to your physical address of record, there will not be an easy way for the emergency responder agency to know where you are. Third-party solutions exist, but it's unclear whether roaming VoIP E-911 will be mandated.

The bottom line, then, is the telcos are saying they will make nice with VoIP leader Vonage to stall for time.

Stall for time until these E911 access solutions become so transparent, so easy and inexpensive to implement, that it will be no sweat off big telco's back to do so.

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