Summary of 911 VOIP Provisions in Senate's Port Security Bill

September 14, 2006. The Senate approved HR 4954, the port security bill, after several days of debate and amendment, on Thursday, September 14. The Senate added to the bill an amended version of the "IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act of 2006".

Background. This amendment is, in part, a response to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) orders in its proceedings regarding its extension of 911/E911 regulation to interconnected VOIP service providers. See especially, the FCC's "First Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" [90 pages in PDF], numbered FCC 05-116 in Docket Nos. 04-36 and 05-196, adopted on May 19, 2005, and released on June 3, 2005.

See also, stories titled "FCC Adopts Order Expanding E911 Regulation to Include Some VOIP Service Providers", "Summary of the FCC's 911 VOIP Order", "Opponents of FCC 911 VOIP Order State that the FCC Exceeded Its Statutory Authority", and "More Reaction to the FCC's 911 VOIP Order" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,139, May 20, 2005, and story titled "FCC Releases VOIP E911 Order" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,148, June 6, 2005.

WC Docket No. 04-36, titled "In the Matter of IP-Enabled Services", is the FCC's gargantuan proceeding that engulfs all regulation of internet protocol (IP) enabled services. The FCC opened this proceeding on February 12, 2004, by adopting its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) [97 pages in PDF].

WC Docket No. 05-196, titled "E911 Requirements for IP-Enabled Service Providers", is the FCC's 911/E911 VOIP proceeding.

The FCC's order extended 911/E911 regulation to interconnected voice over internet protocol (VOIP) service providers. It also imposed draconian notice and service termination requirements on interconnected VOIP service providers.

However, it did not require local exchange carriers to interconnect with VOIP service providers, or state any other incumbent local exchange carriers (ILEC) obligations to VOIP service providers. Nor did it provide that VOIP service providers have any right of access to emergency facilities such as 911/E911 call centers, most of which are owned by ILECs.

Also, this amendment is based upon S 1063, the "IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act of 2005". Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced this bill on May 18, 2005. The Senate Commerce Committee (SCC) amended and approved it on December 20, 2005.

Summary of Amendment as Approved by Senate. The version of the bill approved by the full Senate deleted three subsections of the bill approved by the SCC. First, it removed Section 2(a), regarding revising the FCC's order generally. Second, it removed Section 2(d), regarding grandfathering of service to certain subscribers. Third, it removed Section 2(e), regarding waiver of 911/E911 requirements under certain circumstances. It also tweaked the definition of "IP-enabled voice service", to also include services provided "without a fee".

The deleted Section 2(a) would have required the FCC to review and revise its May 19, 2005 order "to establish requirements that are technologically and operationally feasible for providers of IP-enabled voice service to ensure that 911 and E-911 services are available to subscribers to IP-enabled voice services."

The deleted Section 2(d) would have provided grandfathering of service to certain VOIP subscribers. It stated that "A provider of IP-enabled voice service may continue to provide service to each subscriber who subscribed to that service as of December 31, 2005, to whom notice has been given in accordance with the requirements of the" FCC's order, if "(A) the provider has received an acknowledgement in writing or by electronic means by the subscriber of receipt of the notice; or (B) the provider continues to give clear and conspicuous notice of the unavailability of 911 or E-911 service, or either service, in billing statements or their equivalent sent to the subscriber."

The deleted Section 2(e) would have provided that the FCC shall waive the 911 and E911 requirements contained in its order if a provider "(A) the provider gives a separate, clear, and conspicuous notice to its subscribers that it does not offer 911 service, E-911 service, or either service, as the case may be, to its IP-enabled voice service subscribers; (B) the subscriber separately acknowledges receipt of that notice in writing or by electronic means; and (C) the provider demonstrates that it is not technically or operationally feasible for its IP-enabled voice service to comply with those 911 and E-911 requirements, which may include technical and operational feasibility relative to its portable or nomadic IP-enabled voice service."

The port security bill, as amended and approved by the Senate, includes a requirement that VOIP service providers have access to 911 components.

It provides that the FCC shall issue rules within 90 days "regarding access by IP-enabled voice service providers to 911 components that permit any IP-enabled voice service provider to elect to be treated as a commercial mobile service provider for the purpose of access to any 911 component, except that the regulations issued under this subsection may take into account any technical or network security issues that are specific to IP-enabled voice services."

The bill also provides that states may collect 911 and E911 taxes, including from VOIP service providers. However, the bill requires platform neutrality, and that the funds collected be spent on either 911/E911 or emergency communications services.

It provides that nothing shall "prevent the imposition on, or collection from, a provider of IP-enabled voice services of any fee or charge specifically designated by a State, political subdivision thereof, or Indian tribe for the support of 911 or E-911 services if that fee or charge -- (1) does not exceed the amount of any such fee or charge imposed on or collected from a provider of telecommunications services; and (2) is obligated or expended in support of 911 and E-911 services, or enhancements of such services, or other emergency communications services as specified in the provision of State or local law adopting the fee or charge."

The bill also provides immunity for VOIP service providers that communications carriers currently have. The FCC had declined to extend this immunity in its rule making proceeding.

Section 4 of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 enumerates several grants of protection from liability for various entities, including communications carriers. Section 4 is codified at 47 U.S.C. 615a. This Act was S 800. It was sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). It is now Public Law No. 106-81. Various provisions of the Act are now codified in various sections of the U.S. Code, including 47 U.S.C. 222, 47 U.S.C. 251(e), 47 U.S.C. 615, and 47 U.S.C. 615a.

The bill provides as follows:

"A provider or user of IP-enabled voice services, a PSAP, and the officers, directors, employees, vendors, agents, and authorizing government entity (if any) of such provider, user, or PSAP, shall have the same scope and extent of immunity and other protection from liability under Federal and State law with respect to --
  (1) the release of subscriber information related to emergency calls or emergency services,
  (2) the use or provision of 911 and E-911 services, and
  (3) other matters related to 911 and E-911 services,
as section 4 of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 (47 U.S.C. 615a) provides to wireless carriers, PSAPs, and users of wireless 9-1-1 service (as defined in paragraphs (4), (3), and (6), respectively, of section 6 of that Act (47 U.S.C. 615b)) with respect to such release, use, and other matters."

The bill also requires the writing of a "national plan for migrating to a national IP-enabled emergency network capable of receiving and responding to all citizen activated emergency communications".

Finally, in amending the "IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act of 2006", the Senate changed its definition of "IP-enabled voice service".

It is defined as the "provision of real-time 2-way voice communications offered to the public, or such classes of users as to be effectively available to the public, transmitted through customer premises equipment using TCP/IP protocol, or a successor protocol, for a fee (whether part of a bundle of services or separately), or without a fee, with 2-way interconnection capability such that the service can originate traffic to, and terminate traffic from, the public switched telephone network." (Parentheses in original. The Senate added the phrase ", or without a fee," which is shown in red and in bold above.)

The vote on final passage of the port security bill was 95-0. See, Roll Call No. 240. The House has approved a different version of the bill. It now goes to conference.

Also, during consideration of the bill, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) promised Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) that the SCC's broad communications reform bill would not be added in conference. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was also promised that the waiver language would not be added back to the bill.