The Federal Communications Commission today voted and passed a requirement that interconnected VoIP service providers report significant network outages that meet specific criteria and thresholds. The goal is to ensure 911 system reliability and perhaps customer awareness of fly-by-night VoIP operations that are just trying to make a buck. The FCC will use outage reports to "track and analyze information on interconnected VoIP outages affecting 9-1-1 service and determine if action is needed to prevent future outages." In other words you might be looking at fines if you don't have a reliable VoIP network.
According to Chairman Julius Genachowski, "With today’s action, the FCC is helping ensure that our communications infrastructure is more resilient. We are helping ensure that consumers will have access to reliable phone service, particularly when calling 9-1-1, whether they are using a traditional telephone or one that operates by interconnected VoIP service."
According to the FCC’s most recent Local Competition Report, almost one-third of the more than 87 million residential telephone subscriptions are now provided as interconnected VoIP service, which means a lot of 911 calls are routed over VoIP. The FCC’s current outage reporting rules, which have been in place since 2004, cover voice services provided over wired and wireless platforms, but not interconnected VoIP. Today's FCC action means that interconnected VoIP service providers will be obligated to report significant service outages to the FCC. I believe this covers Vonage, but I'm not sure if Skype is required to report their outages.
The FCC’s Report and Order defines outage reporting for interconnected VoIP service, establishes reporting criteria and thresholds, and discusses how the reporting process should work, what information should be reported, and confidential treatment of the outage reports. The FCC deferred the possibility of setting thresholds for reporting outages of broadband Internet service, and measurements for outages of both interconnected VoIP and broadband Internet services based on performance degradation, as opposed to complete service outage. Commissioner Robert M. McDowell explained:
Given its narrow scope, I am voting to approve today’s order. Although our notice of proposed rulemaking discussed an array of regulatory mandates, today we adopt reporting requirements only in instances of a complete loss of interconnected VoIP service. There is a longstanding recognition that ensuring clear and effective communications in times of emergency is a key aspect of the Commission’s mission. Collecting data on significant outages from VoIP providers will help the Commission in its duty to ensure the reliability and resiliency of our nation’s 9-1-1 voice systems, consistent with Congress’s mandate set forth in Section 615a-1 of the Communications Act. Moreover, in the reporting context, we put VoIP providers on par with wireline and wireless voice service providers, who already submit this information to the Commission and have for some time.
It is important to emphasize that we are not imposing these rules on broadband service providers, whether wireline or wireless. As I have stated many times before, the Commission does not have the legal authority to regulate broadband in such a way. I thank the Chairman for his willingness to accept edits to provide greater clarity regarding the narrow scope of the rules we adopt today, as well as to curtail the possibility of broadening their applicability. I have every confidence that industry will continue to work with the Commission on network outage matters for the benefit of protecting the safety and security of the American people.