Whatever you feel about the merits of the Texas Attorney General's lawsuit against Vonage for failure to disclose limited E-911 functionality, discussed here and here, the case does highlight the concerns regarding the lack of interoperability between VoIP and our localized emergency 911 systems.
An article by Tim Lorello in this month's print edition of Internet Telephony Magazine describes how some VoIP operators plan to route calls to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) and provide the caller's location. Part of the challenge that VoIP providers have is due to the difficulties caused when trying to interface this new IP technology with the older analog system. Both network-base port-mapping or embedded GPS handset chips could be used to identify the precise location of a VoIP call. On the other hand, the barriers of routing the call to the appropriate PSAP are more political than they are technical. Access to the routing mechanisms that connect the 8,000 localized PSAPs in the U.S. is under the authority of the LECs. Talks for private bilateral agreements are already underway between Vonage and some of these companies to address 911 access issues.
Eventually, Internet telephony will allow us to interact with a national emergency system in more productive ways using voice, video and data, which will help emergency professionals respond to critical situations far more effectively than today's voice-only system. The fact that VoIP adoption is being stalled because of a lack of 911 capabilities is openly acknowledged, and there has been concern expressed in the past that one or two tragic incidents could besmirch the delicate reputation of VoIP technology. However, it should be recognized that in the future, advanced emergency services could be one of VoIP's strongest selling points.