Friday, May 6, 2005 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

911 Awareness Week

Only several weeks ago, Ray expressed his concern about the possibility of the Texas AG's suit against Vonage spreading to other states and resulting in a de facto E-911 mandate. Ray may be regretting his powers of clairvoyance. This week, we learned that Connecticut has joined four other states in filing suit. And despite reports that Vonage is working out deals for 911 access with every major ILEC, the FCC may be moving quickly to require a 911 mandate for VoIP as early as this fall.

I concede at the outset that "ugly incidents" involving VoIP and 911 may lead to political pressure for regulation, particularly when you have regulatorily-horny states like Michigan breathing down your neck. But consider some of the potential, but immediate consequences of a quick federal 911 mandate, or regulating for the "dumb consumer." For instance, there would seem to be a risk that the Vonage business model will be locked in as the VoIP status quo and, as such, the rules of the game will be set for potential competitors. Conceivably, under such a plan any VoIP service that touches the PSTN would be required to support 911. So where would that leave SkypeOut, when its website clearly states that "Skype software does not support calls to any emergency numbers nor emergency services."

Also, to offer 911 through ILEC routers, Vonage would reportedly make an initial $10 million investment and pay $1 million per month thereafter. Good deal for Vonage, when it already has 600,000 customers, but it may not be a precedent that bodes well for other VoIP carriers or potential entrants (note the competitive benefits that would accrue to ILECs through such an entry barrier, as well).

And then down the slippery slope we go. The 911 mandate goes in place, another one or two highly publicized "incidents" occur where consumers forget to update their location information, reach the wrong 911 PSAP, or are otherwise unable to be located, and poof! Phased deadlines for E-911, and potentially over an antiquated 911 infrastructure no less.

posted by @ 10:21 AM | VoIP