Federal court sides with FCC on VoIP E911
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently ruled that the FCC’s order that established a 120-day window for voice-over-IP, or VoIP, service providers to provide enhanced 911 services to subscribers was neither arbitrary nor capricious.
The challenge to the order—brought by Nuvio, Lightyear Network Solutions, Primus Telecommunications, Lingo, and i2 Telecom International—alleged that the FCC did not adequately consider technological and economic hurdles when it set the 120-day deadline and that the commission required VoIP providers to connect to the wireline E911 network without also requiring incumbent wireline service providers to provide the connection.
The court rejected both claims. Regarding the first, the court ruled that the FCC had demonstrated that nomadic, non-native VoIP E911 “is technology feasible.” In the second, the court ruled that the commission had adequately weighed the cost of an “aggressive implementation timetable” against the cost of human lives and “found in favor of public safety.”
In his concurring opinion, Judge Brett Kavanaugh supported the court’s conclusion that, given the projected tenfold increase in VoIP 911 calls in the near future, the FCC “reasonably concluded that the public could not tolerate any further delay in the implementation of VoIP E911 service.”
The decision was expected, according to Patrick Halley, governmental affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which represents the nation’s 911 emergency call centers. Nevertheless, the call center community breathed a collective sigh of relief when the FCC prevailed.
“The last thing we wanted to see was the FCC’s order come undone,” Halley said. Such an event could have given VoIP providers significantly more time to comply with the order, or forced the commission to rewrite the order completely.
He added that NENA is eager to see whether the FCC, as a result of this ruling, will step up its enforcement of the order. “I have the feeling the FCC expected to prevail, but they were reluctant to take any major actions while this was still hanging overhead. … It seems as if this decision frees them up to take whatever actions they want.”
Which could be bad news for service providers that have so far resisted complying with the order.
“What the ruling says is that the FCC can do with those companies what it wants,” Halley said. “The order went so far as to say they could pull the licenses [of those companies] that aren’t complying. It is very clear: you’re not supposed to provide service unless you also can provide E911.”
The D.C. Circuit’s decision also frees the FCC to rule on several petitions that previously were filed concerning the order, including one filed by NENA last July. In its petition, NENA asked for clarifications regarding whether MSAG validation—which is used to validate the address of a 911 caller—is required of VoIP service providers. “It doesn’t say that it is, and we certainly think it should be, because it reduces errors,” Halley said.