Voip and 911/e911

By Sheila Shanker
Updated: February 07, 2011

VoIP, also known as voice over Internet protocol, has become a popular phone service alternative for many individuals and businesses., especially if they make lots of long-distance and international calls. Instead of using the phone company, VoIP uses the Internet, saving users lots of money, a major benefit of this type of service, which often includes extras, such as conference calls, included in a reasonable monthly fee.

If you use your land-line to make a call to 911, your phone number and location information shows up to emergency service personnel. This level of information is also known as E911 or Enhanced 911. It helps in bringing emergency services faster to a location, even if the caller doesn't say where he or she is located. Because VoIP is portable and users can be anywhere while talking to the phone, E911 access has been a challenge that has been met by many providers.

In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required all VoIP providers to enable E911. Per its consumer advisory,

"It is imperative that consumers of telephone service be able to reach emergency services regardless of the technology used to place a 911 call."

Since then, access to 911/E911 by VoIP is mandatory and customers cannot “opt-out.”

Specific  FCC requirements include the following:

  • Provide automatic 911 service to all customers.
  • Obtain customers’ physical location and updates of any moves.
  • Transmit all 911 calls to an appropriate emergency call center or authority.
  • Ensure that 911 calls are routed to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in areas where emergency personnel are not capable   of receiving or processing location or call back numbers.
  • Ensure that customers understand any limitation related to 911 services.
  • Require customers to give affirmative acknowledgements about any 911 limitations.

If you’re in the market for a VoIP system, inquire about 911 access and how providers handle it. Usually, this service is included in your monthly fee, and it is not extra. Review any limitations and be sure that users know what to do during an emergency. Many VoIP customers keep a cell phone or a land-line as plan “B”, in case of emergencies.

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