It is no secret that voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has had problems regarding emergency service. Users’ exact locations are not always known, causing 911 calls to be transferred to the incorrect dispatcher. Many users were unaware that when they dialed 911, it would not always work.

Telephone users are accustomed to dialing 911 from a phone and receiving immediate access to emergency personnel. Now, however, consumers have to make sure their VoIP provider has their current address and location information, allowing 911 to dispatch emergency personnel to the correct house.

Enhanced 911, although geared toward cell phone users, has become closely associated with VoIP. It is a location technology that helps pinpoint a mobile user’s whereabouts. While it is not yet available for VoIP, the premise is relevant. E911 software identifies a caller’s number and location. Kinks include incomplete 911 databases and a bad habit of booting callers from making 911 calls when they are not at their homebase locations.

Due to the popularity of VoIP and E911, and the problem of those users not being able to access 911 properly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped in.

The FCC officially released a set of guidelines aimed at the VoIP problem on Nov. 28, 2005. The rules heavily revolve around VoIP providers automatically updating their subscriber database with address information.

“Even though we are a few months past the deadline, most companies are still trying to comply. Actually, most providers at this point are not 100 percent compliant,” said Rick Jones, ENP, National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Arlington, Va.

There is a new facet to this issue: companies that are helping bridge the gap between VoIP providers and compliance. These third-party entities are finding success in a niche that didn’t even exist a few years ago. One company is Intrado, Longmont, Colo.

“Intrado helps telecommunications carriers and federal, state and municipal public safety organizations increase efficiency and decrease the time and complexity associated with meeting their 911 obligations,” said Jill Dickerson of the Intrado Corp. Communications Team. “With our solutions, customers are able to ensure subscribers’ 911 calls can be routed to the correct public safety answering point (PSAP) based on the caller’s current location, with the call delivered on dedicated 911 lines.

“Automatic location information (ALI) is delivered directly to the 911 call taker’s computer screen as a master street address guide valid address, in the format the receiving PSAP requires. Intrado’s V911 services provides these capabilities for static, mobile, nomadic and out-of-area users served by any type of IP-enabled provider.”

Intrado can help those that have not readied themselves become compliant.

“Our solution mirrors the existing wireline solution for E911,” Dickerson said. “Intrado was able to effectively bridge the gap in technologies between the two different technologies without forcing change upon the public safety answering point operating environment. This last point is critical as the industry learned with wireless 911, which does require PSAPs to spend money upgrading call handling equipment, PSAPs securing funding to accommodate such upgrades is highly problematic. The FCC mandated wireless E911 years ago and, today, ranges vary, but E911 for wireless is not available for much of the country.”

It is not clear when or how the problems associated with VoIP and 911 will be worked out; therefore, most providers and those dealing with VoIP systems—such as contractors—advise users to maintain a landline in addition to VoIP.     EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.