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Why the FCC is targeting VoIP 911 calls

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Most Americans take it for granted that when they dial 911 they will reach a dispatcher who can immediately summon an ambulance, fire truck or police patrol. That dispatcher might even dispense preliminary advice for those with medical emergencies. But for the growing number of people who are using their broadband connections to make phone calls--using a technology known as VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol--that assumption could prove dangerous.

Because of a range of technical and other problems, VoIP 911 calls are often unreliable. After-hours VoIP 911 calls in particular may be misdirected to emergency-services administrative offices, where a recorded message explains that the offices are closed and that callers should dial 911 if there's an emergency. What's more, VoIP 911 calls that do reach dispatchers often aren't accompanied by the caller's phone number and location.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to step in Thursday with the first rules addressing 911 calls on VoIP. The questions and answers here focus on how the system works, what the FCC is expected to do and how it will impact customers and VoIP providers.

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