FCC just doesn't understand your Lingo

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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FCC just doesn't understand your Lingo

I was notified by a VoIP affiliate program that they are no longer carrying Lingo within their VoIP affiliate portfolio due to e911 requirements by the FCC. Lingo does not currently conform to e911 requirements and therefore they are restricting their marketing efforts. As you probably were aware, the FCC order specifically prohibits marketing and acquiring new customers for any VoIP provider that is not e911 compliant. So does this mean the end for Lingo or any similar VoIP provider? Sure they could add e911, but that will take time and money. Considering cellular companies are not e911 compliant and they've had 10 years to work on the problem it is odd that the FCC is coming down so hard on VoIP.

Also, the FCC order is extremely vague as to what constitutes "marketing" or acquiring new customers. For instance, I still see Vonage commercials on TV and I don't think Vonage is completely e911-compliant in every region in the U.S. yet. But Vonage could argue their TV commercials are not designed to acquire new customers but rather it's a "brand awareness" campaign designed to show market leadership and to RETAIN existing customers. After all, a VoIP provider that spends millions on TV ads must have strong financials, right? (and please don't bring up the millions of dollars of marketing Genuity spent on their Black Rocket campaign and which is now defunct ;) )

Point being, the FCC should not have a right to restrict VoIP companies from retaining their existing customers through brand awareness campaigns. Considering the FCC board members are appointed by a Republican Administration and Republicans are known for being pro-business, the FCC's stance on this issue is quite surprising. It also just seems un-American to prevent a business from keeping their existing customers. In fact, an argument could be made that the FCC order is stifling VoIP companies from freedom of expression and indeed freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

VoIP providers should be allowed to start their brand awareness through marketing regardless of the status of meeting the e911 requirements. They can simply turn away customers and not sign them up until they meet the FCC requirements or be fined by the FCC. And speaking of fines, what the heck are the fines for violating the FCC e911 order? Is it a flat-rate fine per violation? Is there an incremental increase for repeated offenses? What if a customer is in an area where e911 is served then moved to a rural area where their is no e911 - does the VoIP provider have to terminate the service or face a fine? How many offenses before the FCC removes your right to do business in the U.S.? The FCC has been very vague in this area which is leading to a lot of confusion in the industry. Besides the e911 requirement, the issue of "what is the punishment?" may be one reason why Lingo has decided to pull back on their marketing.

On a related note, Packet8 announced today that they are e911 compliant for all of their Packet8 subscribers and which was developed in partnership with Level 3.

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