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Appeal filed over Net phones' E911 rule

Federal requirement forcing Internet phone companies to provide 911 service to all their customers by November draws legal challenge.

A federal requirement forcing Internet phone companies to provide 911 service to all their customers by November is drawing criticism and a legal challenge.

Nuvio, a Kansas-based provider of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, said Monday that it has appealed the rule to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The rule (click for PDF) also says that VoIP companies must disconnect customers who have not acknowledged warnings about 911 shortcomings by Aug. 30.

Nuvio asked the court to accelerate its review of the Federal Communications Commission's regulations so the process can be completed by Nov. 7, Jason Talley, the company's president, said in a telephone interview Monday. That's because of a second deadline, Nov. 28, for providing full 911 service or disconnecting subscribers, Talley said.

Other industry groups have criticized the FCC's regulation, which applies to VoIP phones that link up with the traditional phone network. CompTel, a trade association representing smaller telecommunications firms, has asked (click for PDF) the FCC to reconsider its rule because the agency "unintentionally cast its net too broadly, potentially creating new and burdensome requirements" for business VoIP providers.

The FCC would not comment Monday. A court document filed in response to Nuvio's request says the FCC "does not oppose" speeding up the appeals process as long as the agency has 30 days to file its own brief in the case.

According to the FCC VoIP regulations adopted in May, Internet phone operators must be able to steer 911 calls to the geographically appropriate emergency call center. In addition, the calls themselves must be accompanied by the originating address and phone number.

Nuvio claims that the FCC's deadline is far too soon and that the process of making new contracts with vendors and deploying the necessary technology for compliance will take longer than 120 days.

"Our hope would be the FCC either adopts a more reasonable order that's based upon the record of what can or cannot be done, or Congress steps in and passes some of their own legislation," Talley said, adding that between six and 10 other companies are expected to join the fight before the appeals court.

VoicePulse, a Jamesburg, N.J.-based VoIP provider, filed a petition with the FCC last month saying its regulations don't provide enough clarity on what to do with VoIP subscribers who don't acknowledge receipt of the warning notices about 911 service. The FCC then said (click for PDF) that VoIP providers must disconnect all such subscribers.

VoicePulse President Ravi Sakaria said that his company would have problems dealing with the FCC's deadlines. "It was unlikely that we would be able to comply the way that the FCC order is worded" within that time frame, Sakaria said Monday.