Internet phone firm sues FCC over rules for having 911 link

Nuvio asks clarification on deadline waiver for laptop users on the road

August 16, 2005|By Jon Van | Jon Van,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A company that provides Internet phone services for businesses has filed a lawsuit to challenge the looming Federal Communications Commission's deadline to provide emergency 911 service.

Nuvio Corp. is seeking more clarity from the FCC on how companies that provide Voice over Internet Protocol service can meet the requirements before the Nov. 28 deadline.

The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week but announced yesterday.

Cable TV operators and others who provide consumer VoIP service have reported satisfactory progress toward meeting the deadline for providing 911 service comparable to that offered by traditional wired phone carriers.

Most cable TV operators require that once VoIP phones are installed at a location, they stay there, much as happens with traditional telephony. This makes it easier to supply emergency dispatchers with the address from which a 911 call is made.

But business customers who use Internet telephony present a daunting problem because they like to use the mobile aspects offered by VoIP technology. A salesperson who takes a laptop on the road, for instance, can take a VoIP phone along and plug it into the computer when he connects to the Internet.

This is a potential nightmare if, for example, a Chicago-based VoIP user makes a 911 call from a San Francisco hotel room because the emergency dispatcher might be told the caller was 2,100 miles away from his true location.

Another problem arises when a VoIP customer takes a phone to a location where 911 service is "just unavailable," said Jason Talley, chief executive of Nuvio, which is based in Kansas City, Mo.

"We've asked the FCC to clarify what we have to do in various circumstances to comply with this order, but we've not gotten a satisfactory response," he said. "We're afraid that when we get to November, the FCC will decide we're not in compliance and order us to shut off service."

That could disrupt phone service for tens of thousands of business customers, Talley said. "We went to court because we hope to get this clarified before the deadline."

He points to the wireless industry as an example of how difficult it is to provide emergency calling services for mobile phone users.

"The cellular industry has been grappling with these same issues for a dozen years," Talley said. The FCC has given cellular operators waivers as they work on the problem but VoIP operators haven't been assured of waivers or even given specifics of what will constitute compliance, he said.

In a filing with the Appeals Court, the FCC said it is trying to balance the needs of public safety with the limitations of VoIP technology. The agency said it doesn't oppose Nuvio's request for an expedited judicial review so the court can rule on the merits of the case before Nov. 28.

Intrado Inc., a Colorado company that helps Internet firms supply 911 service, said that it is unclear how many carriers may miss the FCC's deadline.

"It's difficult to say what percentage of service providers will meet the deadline," said Marcus Andronici, Intrado's VoIP product manager. "We don't know what will be perceived as compliance. Some questions have yet to be answered.

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