FCC Orders Implementation of Direct 911 Dialing and Dispatchable Location for Multi-line Telephone Systems, Extends Location Obligations of Interconnected VoIP and TRS Providers

At its August Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) implementing portions of two recent statutes—Kari’s Law and the RAY BAUM’s Act—that address ensuring greater access to 911 and emergency services for members of the public. Kari’s Law requires multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”), like those in hotels and offices, to have the capability for a user to dial 911 directly without having to press “9” (or some other access code) first to call out. Section 506 of the RAY BAUM’s Act requires the FCC to consider adopting rules to ensure a 911 caller’s dispatchable location is properly conveyed from an MLTS to the public safety answering point (“PSAP”). The Commission took the opportunity of implementing these two Acts to also expand 911 dialing requirements for certain VoIP, TRS and mobile text-to-911 services.

With these new requirements, the FCC continues its trend of expanding the availability of emergency services calling to newer technologies. As these new forms of communication become more mainstream – and as they grow as replacements for, rather than complements to, traditional telecommunications services – the FCC has been inclined to make emergency services a “must have” feature of the service. Providers of new communications technologies should carefully review their service offerings to determine how to handle customer attempts to reach emergency services.

Direct 911 Dialing

Kari’s Law is a requirement that multi-line telephone systems provide direct access to 911 dialing, without requiring the dialing of a prefix (such as 9). The law takes its name from an assault and murder of a woman by her estranged husband in 2013. While the woman was being assaulted, her 9-year-old daughter repeatedly tried to dial 911 on the motel room phone, but was unable to reach emergency services because the girl did not know that the motel’s phone system first required the dialing of a “9” to reach an outside line. Kari’s Law attempts to solve this situation by requiring all multi-line telephone systems to allow dialing of 911 without dialing of a prefix before dialing the number.

In the Order, the FCC adopted a rule that restates the Kari’s Law requirement for MLTS system manufacturers and installers to ensure that direct 911 dialing capability is available for systems installed on or after February 16, 2020. Equipment manufacturers, importers or lessors must ensure that their systems are pre-configured so that when properly installed, the systems will be able to dial 911 directly, without dialing an additional digit, code, prefix, etc. Similarly, a person in the business of installing, managing, or operating an MLTS system must configure that system to allow the user to dial 911 without dialing an additional digit, code, prefix, etc.

In addition, Kari’s Law and the Order also requires an installed MLTS system to be configured to provide notification of a 911 call to a central location (or person) at the facility where it the MLTS device is housed, if that configuration is possible without software or hardware change. “MLTS Notification” is defined as a feature “that can send notice to a central location at the facility where the system is installed or to another person or organization regardless of location.” Examples of such a notification can include screen pops with an alarm noise on security desk computers using a client application, text messages, and an email for an administrator. The notification should include (1) the fact that a 911 call has been made, (2) a valid callback number (does not have to be a direct inward dial to the caller’s phone), and (3) the same location information that is conveyed with the call to 911, to the extent technically feasible. The initiation of the notification must be contemporaneous with the call to 911.

Dispatchable Location

In response to Section 506 of the RAY BAUM’S Act, the Order expands the requirement to transmit “dispatchable location” on 911 calls to multi-line systems. Dispatchable location generally means enhanced information about the location of a caller within a building, such as a room number, floor number, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party. The Order adopts requirements to transmit dispatchable location for both MLTS services and interconnected VoIP services.

  • MLTS calls. The FCC acknowledged some parties’ concern that the feasibility of providing location information varied within MLTS depending on the type of device and functionality. As a result, the Order imposes different obligations depending upon the type of MLTS call involved.
    • Fixed MLTS – Providing dispatchable location information for 911 calls is readily achievable and thus, fixed providers should provide automatically provide at least a street address (must be validated). This requirement will be effective one year after the effective date of the Order.
    • Non-Fixed MLTS Devices Used On-Premise – These MLTS devices should be able to provide the automated dispatchable location when technically feasible but otherwise providers, may rely on the user to provide or confirm the information manually. Non-fixed, on premise providers also have the option to provide alternative location information (may include coordinate-based information), which should be sufficient to identify a caller’s civic address and approximate in-building location. This requirement will become effective two years after the effective date of the Order.
    • Non-Fixed MLTS Device Used Off-Premise – When a user is off premises during a 911 call, the MLTS operator or manager must provide (1) dispatchable location, if technically feasible, or, otherwise, either (2) manually-updated dispatchable location, or (3) enhanced location information, which may be coordinate-based, consisting of the best available location that can be obtained from any available technology or combination of technologies at reasonable cost. This requirement will become effective two years after the effective date of the Order.
  • Interconnected VoIP – Similar to MLTS, the FCC recognized in the Order that there might be differences in the feasibility of providing dispatchable location information for fixed vs. non-fixed iVoIP services.
    • Fixed iVoIP – Fixed iVoIP providers will be required to automatically transmit to the PSAP a dispatchable location with a 911 call, but the Commission clarified that the location may be determined by the means of the registered location that customers supply to their provider. This requirement will be effective one year after the effective date of the Order.
    • Nomadic/Non-Fixed iVoIP – Non-fixed providers must automatically provide dispatchable location when technically feasible, but may also rely on the registered location and require the customer to update manually if the calling location is changed or different than the registered location. Non-fixed providers also have the option to rely on alternative location information and as a last resort, the provider may route a 911 call to a national emergency call center for the operator to ask the caller about his or her location. This requirement will become effective two years after the effective date of the Order.
    • Outbound-only VoIP – For the first time, the FCC imposed a 911 dialing requirement on services that only interconnect with the PSTN for outbound calls. (Prior to the Order, only two-way VoIP services had 911 obligations). The FCC also amends the definition of interconnected VoiP in the rules (as it relates to 911 purposes) to include outbound iVoIP. Outbound iVoIP providers must notify subscribers of e911 service limitations and comply with the same location requirements as nomadic/non-fixed providers. This requirement will become effective two years after the effective date of the Order.
  • TRS – Fixed internet-based TRS providers are required to provide automated, validated dispatchable location for each call. This requirement will be effective one year after the effective date of the Order. Non-fixed internet-based TRS providers, however, will only have to comply with the same (more flexible) requirements as a non-fixed iVoIP provider and have the same two-year implementation period.
  • Mobile Text – Text providers already subject to the 911 rules are required to provide (1) dispatchable location, if technically feasible, or, otherwise, either (2) end-user manual provision of dispatchable location, or (3) enhanced location information. This requirement becomes effective within two years after the effective date of the Order.