In a thought-provoking blog on 911 services, David Isenberg concludes that:
To me, an outsider, it looks like the 911 system, while it is based on a reasonable idea, has the wrong architecture, the wrong assumptions, and a set of entrenched users and interests that might ignore alternative ways to solve the emergency services problem better.
One such possible alternative is proposed in a recent article by Doug Sicker and Tom Lookabaugh. They argue that a phased approach to certification and labeling, properly tailored, will be able to address the diverse array of VoIP services. This effort would follow coordination between state and federal authorities and the threat of regulation by government agencies "unless credible self-regulation emerges" with participation by government, consumer group and industry actors. If successful, such an approach may be used to meet other social policy goals. The full article is available through SSRN here.
An attractive feature of pre-emptive self-regulation is that it eliminates the public choice temptation to hamper the growth of VoIP services (that said, there may be public choice pressures within a self-regulation regime - Sicker and Lookabaugh propose ways to address this concern). And for now, it appears that the preconditions for a model of self-regulation are in place, as the VON Coalition released a survey today which indicates that VoIP providers are making progress in rolling out 911 in the absence of a government mandate.