Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Internet Phones Given 911 Deadline

Filed under
Sci/Tech

Internet phone providers were ordered Thursday to begin supplying reliable 911 emergency call service after regulators heard an anguished Florida woman describe how she was unable to summon help to save her dying infant daughter.

The Federal Communication Commission gave companies that offer telephone service over the Internet 120 days to certify that their customers will be able to reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911. Also, a dispatcher will have to be able to tell where a caller is located and the number from which he is calling.

Her voice breaking, Cheryl Waller of Deltona, Fla., told the commissioners that "120 days is seven days longer than my daughter lived." Julia Waller "died at 113 days old because I can't reach an operator," her mother said.

Cheryl Waller said she got a recording when she used her Internet phone to call 911 after her daughter stopped breathing last March. By the time she was able to summon help with a neighbor's phone, the child was dead.

The chairman, Kevin J. Martin, said situations like that are "simply unacceptable."

"Anyone who dials 911 has a reasonable expectation that he or she will be connected to an emergency operator," Martin said.

Internet phone service, known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, shifts calls from wires and switches, using computers and broadband connections to convert sounds into data and transmit them via the Internet.

In many cases, subscribers use conventional phones hooked up to high-speed Internet lines.

Unlike traditional phones, which have a fixed address that a 911 operator can quickly call up, Internet phone service can be mobile. Someone with a laptop who signs up for service in Arizona, for example, may end up calling 911 for an emergency while on a trip to Boston.

Roughly half of the nation's 1.5 million or so VoIP users are served by cable television companies that already provide full-blown 911 capabilities because they only offer phone service to a fixed location.

The FCC's order requires companies that allow customers to use their Internet phones anywhere there is an Internet connection to provide the same emergency capability.

The order follow months of finger-pointing and bickering between VoIP carriers and the traditional local phone companies that own the network connections to the nation's nearly 6,200 "public safety answer points."

The FCC order, approved by a 4-0 vote, requires that local phone companies provide access to their E-911 networks - those that enable emergency operators to identify the location and telephone number of the caller - to any telecommunications carrier.

Just before the FCC issued its order, Vonage Holdings Corp., one of the largest VoIP carriers, said it had reached an agreement with BellSouth and SBC Communications to purchase E-911 services for its customers.

BellSouth confirmed the deal. A spokesman for SBC said the arrangement has not been completed. Vonage reached a similar deal with Verizon last week.

John Rego, Vonage's chief financial officer, said arrangements with the three companies will enable Vonage to provide E-911 capability to more than 75 percent of its customers. He said negotiations with Qwest Communications on a deal to cover the other 25 percent are continuing.

"We've been trying to get this access for a year," Rego said. "We'll work as diligently as we can to make this happen in the next 120 days. If we don't get there, the FCC will at least be able to see we've made a very good faith effort."

Under the order, VoIP carriers must provide a way for customers to update their location and callback numbers when they travel. Failure to update that information would cause an emergency operator to assume the call was coming from the last registered location.

The order also requires VoIP carriers to explain to their customers the capabilities and limitations of the emergency response service they are getting with their Internet phones. Connection to a 911 operator, for example, would not be possible for a VOIP customer if there is a power failure or loss of Internet connection.

Internet phone service usually is cheaper than traditional service, ranging from $20 to $50 per month for an unlimited national calling plan. As a result, it has become a rapidly growing industry, something federal regulators said they did not want to slow.

But, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, "We cannot let our desire to see VOIP proliferate come at the cost of providing the best emergency services available today, nor can we afford to take any steps backward."

The order does not apply to other Internet based providers, such as those that offer instant messaging or gaming services that contain voice components.

DAVID PACE
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Programming: Bugs, Mistakes, and Python

  • Living on the command line: Why mistakes are a good thing
  • Getting started with functional programming in Python using the toolz library
    In the second of a two-part series, we continue to explore how we can import ideas from functional programming methodology into Python to have the best of both worlds. In the previous post, we covered immutable data structures. Those allow us to write "pure" functions, or functions that have no side effects, merely accepting some arguments and returning a result while maintaining decent performance.
  • The code's crashed again, but why? Tell us your war stories of bugs found – and bugs fixed
    Even the best software goes wrong from time to time. So, what exactly happens when it throws a wobbly, especially when it's a key component in a production environment? Whether it's a total crash, a transaction failure, or the mangling of important data, there's going to be some kind of business impact. And the more the problem persists, the greater the level of pain, loss, and disruption. Everyone wants faults identified, diagnosed, and fixed ASAP. Identification is not normally a challenge – user complaints, curses, screams, and threats usually provide a pretty good clue. But before anyone can prioritize and schedule a fix, someone needs to diagnose the problem.

Lakka – Transform Your Old PC into a Retrogaming Console

Lakka is a free, lightweight, and open-source Linux distro that turns a small PC into a full-blown game console. It features a beautiful and user-friendly UI with eye candy colours and a PS4-like User Experience. You can install it on your SD card and easily set it up or run it LIVE. Its wide range of joypad support allows you to use PlayStation, XBox, and Nintendo game controllers. If you don’t have a PC to use Lakka on you can dedicated hardware at a cost as low as $30 thanks to its support for a variety of computers not excluding Raspberry Pi, Raspberry 2, HummingBoard, Banana Po, Odroid, CuBox-i, Cubietruck, and Cubieboard 2. Lakka is the official OS of RetroArch which takes care of its inputs and display, and it implements all game systems as a libretro core. This separation ensures that users are able to configure their setup once and have their changes effected across all game systems. Read more

VirtualBox 6.0 Beta 1

  • Announcement: VirtualBox 6.0 Beta 1 released
    Please do NOT use this VirtualBox Beta release on production machines! A VirtualBox Beta release should be considered a bleeding-edge release meant for early evaluation and testing purposes.
  • Oracle Pushes VirtualBox 6.0 Into Public Beta
    Oracle's Munich developers responsible for maintaining the VirtualBox virtualization software this morning announced the first public test release of the upcoming VirtualBox 6.0. While VirtualBox 6.0 is referred to as "a new major release", as of the beta one stage there are just a few features to note. With VirtualBox 6.0 Beta 1 there is support for exporting a virtual machine to the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. The second listed feature at this stage for v6.0 are improvements to the graphical user-interface for this VM software.

Games: MMORPGs, Disappointment From One Hour One Life and Linux port of Total War: WARHAMMER II