The U.S. Senate yesterday voted to include IP-based 911 measures as part of the Safe Port Act (HR 4954) that would serve to clarify jurisdictional and liability issues surrounding voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers’ role in the 911 system.

Among other things, the 911 amendments would let states impose and collect 911 fees—a matter that is in question, given the FCC’s stance that IP services fall under federal jurisdiction—and ensures that VoIP providers have access to the E911 components necessary to offer E911 services. In addition, the legislation would provide PSAPs, VoIP providers and VoIP customers with the same liability protections given to those associated with traditional wireline telephony and cellular services.

National Emergency Number Association (NENA) applauded passage of the 911 items, which the organization has been lobbying for throughout the session.

“NENA remains focused on the need for a rapid deployment of E911 for VoIP services, the need for liability protection for 911 telecommunicators, the need to preserve funding levels for PSAPs and the advancement of a modernized 911 system,” NENA President Bill Munn said in a prepared statement. “This legislation builds on the important action taken by the FCC last year and advances these critical issues.

Each of the 911 items had been part of the IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act (S. 1063) approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in December 2005, but it was questionable whether that legislation would reach the Senate floor, according to Beltway sources. As a result, many non-controversial 911 amendments were added to the Safe Port Act passed yesterday. The legislation now will be considered in a conference committee.

Not included in the Senate amendments was language that would have required the FCC to grant waivers to IP-based providers in situations where it was not “technically or operationally feasible” to meet mandates. While NENA supported this legislation, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) staunchly opposed such language, claiming that it would provide a loophole for VoIP providers wanting to avoid 911 offerings, despite the FCC last year mandating that they do so.

“APCO International will object to any statutory language that provides loopholes for VoIP providers to avoid 911 obligations, or delays the enforcement of the FCC Order,” APCO President Wanda McCarley

said in a prepared statement. “APCO International appreciates the Senate's action that deletes the loopholes that had been in S. 1063, and we look forward to working with the Senate and the House to ensure that any bill which passes Congress this year will not weaken the FCC order.”