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E-911 will soon be available to Internet phone users

Thursday, May 19, 2005

FCC hears consumers’ demands: E-911 will soon be available to Internet phone users

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Users of new technology allowing local and long distance phone calls to be made using a high-speed Internet connection, known as Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), won a victory today as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required VoIP users be able to use “E-911” emergency services within 120 days. In the meantime, VoIP customers will receive clear notice regarding their service’s “E-911” capabilities.
“Americans, no matter where they live or which telephone technology they use, must have the ability to get emergency help,” said Janee Briesemeister, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. “The ‘911’ system was created so that everyone who needed it could call local first responders in times of emergency. We have long voiced concern that VoIP is marketed as a substitute phone service without being capable of or required to provide equivalent service. Several states have tried to correct these problems, only to be blocked by the FCC. Today, the Commission finally tackled this concern by requiring VoIP providers to offer the service, and the local phone monopolies to provide non-discriminatory access to the ‘E-911’ network.”
Briesemeister continued, “This action is long overdue. The FCC finally did the right thing on this critical public safety issue. No more will we have to learn of tragic cases where individuals suffered or even lost their lives because ‘911’ services over the Internet simply did not work.”
Even with today’s order, consumers should be warned that Internet-based phone service may not be 100 percent reliable in an emergency. Unlike landlines, VoIP is dependent on the user’s Internet connection working. Second, unless the VoIP service has a source of back-up power, the service will not work for ‘911’ or any other call when the electricity is out. In contrast, a traditional corded phone will operate even during a blackout (a cordless phone is also dependent on electricity). During a power outage, a traditional landline is still the more reliable option. Consumers choosing to use the Internet to make phone calls must be made aware of these limitations so they can plan accordingly in cases of emergency.
Consumers Union is committed to providing consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about the tools they use to send and receive information. From cell phones to the Internet to television, efforts to change the way these services are regulated and provide are constantly underway. To learn more about what is at stake for consumers, visit www.HearUsNow.org.
For more information contact: Janee Briesemeister, (512) 477-4431 ext. 117