TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: New Technology Poses 911 Peril VOIP Not Part of Emergency System

New Technology Poses 911 Peril VOIP Not Part of Emergency System

Jack Decker (jack-yahoogroups@withheld_on_request)
Sat, 16 Apr 2005 13:19:51 -0400

My commentary follows the excerpts ...

New technology poses 911 peril Voice over Internet Protocol lines not
part of emergency system

Saturday, April 16, 2005
News Staff Reporter

Joe Lawrence had no idea what was causing the delay.

His friend, who had turned ashen just minutes before while they sat
together at a meeting at the VFW post in Ypsilanti, was now doubled
over a chair having difficulty breathing.

Panicked that it might be a heart attack or stroke in progress,
Lawrence, an Ypsilanti attorney, called 911 from the organization's
house phone. A police dispatcher responded, but crucial minutes passed
as Lawrence and the dispatcher tried to determine the exact location
because the phone line Lawrence used was no longer part of the 911

"If it wasn't the silliest thing, but the hang-up was I couldn't give
them an exact address, and he was in trouble," said Lawrence, who
ultimately had to run across Michigan Avenue to the Ypsilanti Fire
Department before help arrived.

After Lawrence complained to Ypsilanti Police Chief George Basar,
authorities determined that the call went to a private line in the
Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department instead of going to 911

The reason? The VFW post was using Voice over Internet Protocol
(VoIP), a new technology that transmits phone calls through broadband
Internet connections rather than traditional phone lines.

As it turned out, Lawrence's friend recovered after being hospitalized
for several days with an undetermined ailment.

But, Basar said, the incident illustrates a serious flaw in the
technology that more and more residents and businesses are using to
save money on phone service.


[Vonage Representative] Schulz said E-911 is still only built to work
on local phone lines, but users in Rhode Island have had little
trouble in the six months since Vonage offered it to subscribers
there. Rhode Island is the only place where Vonage offers the service
because the state owns the phone lines, she said.

In other states, Michigan included, phone companies are barring access
for competitive reasons, she charged.

There's some truth to it, Stofega said. But ultimately, it's up to the
providers to meet their customers' demands or either the market or the
regulators will prevail.

[COMMENT: Okay, if there is some truth to it, then why does almost
everyone in the press play toady for the big phone companies and try
to lay all the blame on the VoIP companies alone? It sure appears that
the incumbents are making interconnection difficult solely for
competitive reasons, and that where the incumbents don't control the
911 system (as in Rhode Island), VoIP companies find it is much easier
to make the proper connections. I will just point out that if a life
is ever lost because someone cannot reach 911, and it turns out that
the incumbent phone company attempted to limit access to the 911
system for competitive reasons, and the matter goes to court in a
civil trial, I don't think the big phone company involved will be able
to evade responsibility for their part in creating the situation - the
lawyers will surely dig much deeper into the mess than most reporters

Please understand what I am saying here -- if an ILEC is making access
to the 911 system difficult for VoIP providers because they think it
gives them a competitive edge, they are creating a condition where
someone might die, solely to enhance their bottom line. Since most
ILEC's have much deeper pockets than VoIP providers (always a
consideration in a lawsuit) and since there is a good probability that
any jury of twelve people will include at least one or two that have
had bad experiences with the phone company at some time in the past
(even if they don't remember those experiences consciously), I think
the ILEC's are playing with fire here. And as I say, lawyers are not
going to make the sort of shallow investigations that most newspaper
reporters do, nor are they going to buy into the ILEC-produced
propaganda funneled through astroturf public interest groups.

Now having said all that, the other side of the coin is that 911
access might in fact be available in Michigan. For example, John
Lodden has informed me that his company (Telesthetic/Local Exchange
Carriers of Michigan) has access to all the 911 centers in Michigan
and could provide access to VoIP companies, however at present none of
the large VoIP companies are utilizing that access (I hope I am saying
that accurately -- I'm working from memory here and apologize to John
if I'm mis-stating that in any way). I can understand that most VoIP
companies would probably like some sort of nationwide standard for
interconnection to 911 centers, and are hoping for some type of FCC
action that will establish a nationwide standard, so they don't have
to do something different in each of the 50 states, and that costs
might be prohibitive if they have to use a different means of access
in each of the states.

Ultimately I think the FCC is probably going to have to mandate some
sort of national standard for 911 interconnection that will force the
ILEC's to open up their systems whether they want to or not. For
those who whine that this unjustly takes what the phone companies have
built, I again remind you that the foundation for 911 was built while
the ILEC's were MONOPOLY providers that enjoyed government-protected
profit margins (even today that's still essentially the case for some
smaller ILEC's), and that in many cases the existing 911 system was
foisted upon the public in a sweetheart deal between the ILEC's and
local units of government, who loved the idea that they could force
people to pay for the system via phone bills instead of doing it the
proper way, which was to go to the voters and ask for funding via the
normal tax mechanisms already in place.

So now the 911 centers are stuck with technology that only works
really well with the existing wireline network, and yet nobody in the
press seems to want to blame the real culprits, which are the ILEC's
that set up such technologically-mediocre systems, and their
co-conspirators in local governments who saw an opportunity to bypass
the voters in the decision making process. No, it's much easier to
lay all the blame on the VoIP companies, which have only been in
business for less than a couple of years (in most cases) and who had
no say at all into how the existing 911 system was designed. It
doesn't make sense to me, and my hope is that the FCC and the courts
(should the matter ever wind up in the courts) will see the issue with
much greater clarity than most of the toady reporters that have been
writing these stories, apparently based solely on press releases and
other ILEC propaganda.]

Full story at:

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Here in Independence, where we are a
little more backward in our telecom, it seems, the city has a phone
in the telecom area which is specifically designated for the job of
'emergency, but not 911 equipped calls'. It is not some 'private line
in a back office somewhere' as seems to be the case in Ypsilanti or
Brooklyn, NY. The phone terminates in a place where experienced
professionals can deal with the calls, even though said calls do not
come through the equipment looking like 'regular' 911 calls. VOIP
carriers _have to take the word of the various agencies_ that a call
is being terminated where it can be best handled. Should the VOIP
carriers have to personally audit each community to assure this?
Vonage, at least, apparently tries to confirm these things *before*
they send email to the subscriber telling them that 911 has been
turned on. If you combine the often-times careless and casual, public-
be-damned attitudes of our government employees with the propoganda
coming out of Bell, you are bound to get these problems at times. PAT]

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