FCC Gives More Time to VOIP Telcos to Get 911 Replies

U.S. communications regulators on Friday gave Internet telephone providers more time to get customers to acknowledge the limitations of

911 access with their subscriptions, likely reducing the chances that some would have service cut off.

The Federal Communications Commission has been worried that not all customers know that when they dial 911 with an Internet phone, the call may not reach an emergency dispatcher or would not show the location from where the call was made.

The agency ordered carriers to fix that by late November and also get an affirmative reply from subscribers of the service -- known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) -- that they know the limitations.

The FCC said carriers should suspend service to those customers who failed to reply by late July. That was later extended until August 29.

But Internet phone carriers urged the agency to put off that deadline again amid fears it could cause more harm than good, leaving customers with no phone service at all.

After noting that carriers made significant strides in obtaining replies, the FCC's enforcement bureau decided to grant another extension, until September 28, for those carriers that submit more reports on progress and details on getting final replies.

"During this additional period of time, the bureau expects that all interconnected VoIP providers that qualify for this extension will continue to use all means available to them to obtain affirmative acknowledgements from all of their subscribers," the FCC said.

But companies that still provide VOIP service to customers after the deadline without obtaining the acknowledgements could be subject to enforcement action by the FCC.

UBS analyst John Hodulik estimates there were about 2.5 million U.S. VOIP customers at the end of the second quarter, meaning that even if

90 percent responded by the August deadline, 250,000 could lose service.

"There are too many VOIP users who have cut their traditional phone service or turning off VOIP service to be a valid solution," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunciations analyst.

The head of a coalition VOIP companies said the decision was particularly helpful since some customers may have been on vacation while others may have been confused or unaware they needed to acknowledge the 911 limitations.

"It's a recognition that consumers could have been put in harms way if their service was shut off because they inadvertently hadn't acknowledged the limitations of the service," said Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of the VON Coalition.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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