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FCC extends 911 deadline for Net phones

VoIP operators get temporary reprieve from 911-notification deadline, delaying possibility of disrupted service for tens of thousands.

The Federal Communications Commission has given Net phone operators a temporary reprieve from meeting a 911-notification deadline, delaying the possibility of disrupted service for tens of thousands of customers.

Operators that provide phone service via the Internet, or voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), were required by Wednesday to have customers acknowledge the potential limitations of accessing 911 emergency services when using VoIP. The FCC issued a revised schedule Tuesday.

VoIP operators that failed to obtain acknowledgment regarding 911 service from at least 90 percent of their customers are now required to submit a status report to the FCC by Oct. 25. The new compliance deadline for these operators is Oct. 31.

The FCC estimates that more than a third of VoIP operators that submitted status reports this month fell below the 90 percent target, a representative of the agency said.

VoIP customers who fail to acknowledge the potential limitations to 911 access face having their service disconnected or restricted from non-911 VoIP use. Industry groups and FCC filings by VoIP operators indicate that the number of customers affected could reach 50,000.

For operators that have received acknowledgement from 90 percent or more of their customers, the enforcement deadlines have been waived, according to the FCC.

"The majority of providers submitting September reports have obtained acknowledgements from nearly all, if not all, of their subscribers," according to the FCC's public notice on its Web site. "In recognition of these substantial efforts and the very high percentage of received acknowledgments, the bureau announces that it will not pursue enforcement action against such providers."

That FCC said that at least 21 providers have received notice from all customers that they are aware of the 911 limitations; another 32 VoIP operators report that 90 percent or more of their customers have made such indications.

Despite the high acknowledgement rate, the FCC is asking these operators to continue pursuing the 100 percent rate and notify the FCC once they have obtained that level.

At issue is access to the enhanced 911, or E911, system, which allows emergency operators to link a caller's physical location with the phone number used to dial for help. While conventional telephones in most areas of the country have had that capability for years, not all VoIP providers have the technology in place to route their calls to that system.

The FCC initially issued the 911 requirements in June and set a deadline of June 29 to meet compliance. VoIP operators complained the instructions were too vague, and regulators pushed the deadline back to Aug. 30. The FCC then opted to extend the deadline to Sept. 28, after public-safety groups also weighed in on the issue.

CNET's Anne Broache contributed to this report.