First Coffee

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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First Coffee

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is last year’s release The Platinum Collection, Frank Sinatra’s three-discer from what’s probably his artistic peak, his 1953 – 1961 tenure on Capitol Records:

By now you may have heard about the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling yesterday that Voice-over Internet Protocol telephony providers have about four months to offer the sort of standard 911 service you get from your telco – you dial in and you’re automatically connected to an emergency dispatcher, and the address you’re calling from shows up on their screen.

First CoffeeSM is all for VoIP telephony providers including 911 in their services, favors making it an opt-out feature instead of opt-in, and believes the four Bells which control the nation’s 911 system should be required to strike reasonable deals to allow VoIP providers to offer 911 to their customers.

The Heartless Bastard agrees.

First CoffeeSM views government regulation as a necessary evil, many things are better off left to the common sense and personal freedom of Americans, who can be trusted to act in their own best interests far more frequently than government can be trusted to legislate it for them and who learn by suffering consequences when they do not, and notes that in recent weeks VoIP providers have, in fact, been striking deals with Bells to gain 911 access for their customers.

Okay, everybody knew the FCC’s ruling was imminent, maybe Vonage and SkyRocket, two of the more prominent VoIPers to get 911 access deals were just staying a step ahead of legislation, and maybe they wouldn’t have been so keen to get deals done if they hadn’t seen the FCC in their rear-view mirrors.

But the fact is that before the FCC issued a rather draconian 120-day deadline for providing standard 911 deals were being made, and the VoIP industry was moving a lot faster to get standard 911 than the cellular industry, which didn’t have it for years and years.

Maybe the FCC could have said six months to a year, since once you have a VoIP provider offering standard 911 customers have the option available to them. In that case the market can take over and weed out the responsible carriers from the irresponsible ones.

The Heartless Bastard finds this the best solution.

Anyway, the Bells will be more or less forced to negotiate in good faith with the VoIPers, and First CoffeeSM thinks extensions will be fairly generously granted to companies who are genuinely trying to get something done, the FCC will realistically only shut down those scofflaws who don’t even pretend to be in serious negotiations or on a timetable to include standard 911. People like that don’t need to be offering VoIP in the first place. Good riddance to ‘em.

Yesterday before issuing the ruling the Commission heard from Florida resident Cheryl Waller who recounted, in heartbreaking detail, how in March her three and a half-month old daughter Julia died after she stopped breathing, and Waller tried to call 911 from her Vonage connection, reached a sheriff’s administrative office, took what by the account First CoffeeSM’s seen “seconds” to find a 911-enabled phone and call emergency personnel. By the time help arrived the child had, sadly, died.

The Heartless Bastard wipes his eyes, but has a few questions here.

First CoffeeSM is a father of three, and can’t imagine the grief Mrs. Waller must be feeling. There’s nothing but sympathy for her loss. A mere two months on the pain must still be raw.

It’s understandable that she would want to testify before the commission, she could feel she’s doing something give her daughter’s death meaning, something to help other parents avoid the devastation she’s suffering.

It’s the FCC which is to blame for exploiting a lachrymose appeal to sentiment to herald what’s supposed to be a fair, logical ruling.

The Heartless Bastard is aware of two or three instances, is sure there are a few more, where people with VoIP phones tried to call 911 and weren’t connected to an emergency dispatcher. This is the first death he can recall connected with such a situation. The question, since we’re imposing government fiat to fix this problem affecting such a huge swath of the population, is who’s at fault?

Right. If you believe that’s the question keep believing everything you see on CBS and read in Newsweek. Oh that’s what the question should be, but who wants to be seen as the Heartless Bastard, poking around and asking uncomfortable questions which might offend the grieving mother?

First CoffeeSM reads where in the Waller case Vonage’s 911 calls were directed to a Volusia County Sheriff’s administrative number, not emergency personnel. That problem has evidently been rectified.

So putting on the Heartless Bastard hat for a minute – hm, fits uncomfortably well – it’s fair to ask if the Wallers did the “due diligence” to ascertain the level of 911 service they were receiving with their free decision to use Vonage. Since Ms. Waller’s been quoted as saying “I think we lost our daughter because of this,” a thinly-veiled way of saying “Vonage is responsible for the death of our infant daughter,” the Heartless Bastard would ask if that is, in fact, what the responding emergency personnel corroborated – “If we had been called ____ seconds sooner we would have saved her life, the time you took to find a 911-enabled phone is what cost your daughter her life?” If anybody’s seen the medical evaluation of the Waller child please contact First CoffeeSM.

Blaming Vonage for the death of a three-month old girl when there are so many other variables we haven’t seen examined strikes even the Heartless Bastard as unfair. Corporations have feelings too. Of course if Vonage deliberately misled the Wallers on what they were getting with the 911 service, to the stake with them, First CoffeeSM will light the First TorchSM.

First CoffeeSM hasn’t seen the Vonage information Ms. Waller saw, but the Heartless Bastard suspects that if there were legally actionable negligence on the part of Vonage – if they really were responsible for Julia’s death – some lawyer would have sniffed it out by now. A dead baby is chum in the water for lawyers.

If First CoffeeSM had VoIP and his child had a medical emergency, and he tried to call 911, was told to try again, spent seconds finding a 911-enabled phone to call emergency personnel who arrive to find a dead child, most likely there would be the naturally-occurring, if probably unjustified guilt of “Oh it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have tried to save money on long-distance by using VoIP.” A careful inquiry would be needed to show whether call time would have made any difference at all.

But the temptation to blame someone, something, anyone, anything – a cruel uncaring God, the VoIP provider – would be overwhelming. As rational beings humans need reasons, understandings of “why?” especially for senseless death. But nothing the Heartless Bastard or First CoffeeSM’s seen confirms that the 911 delay was the cause of, or even a contributing factor to, Julia Waller’s death.

To be fair to everyone involved, the Wallers, Vonage, the millions of Americans who want VoIP, what’s needed is a thorough examination of the VoIP package, informational and promotional materials and specific 911 representations Vonage offered to the Wallers and to check for discrepancies with what was actually provided, an accounting of the Wallers’ installation of the system, a medical determination of the cause and time of the child’s death – all First CoffeeSM has heard is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, basically a medical catch-all for “We have no idea what happened” – and then for an impartial commission to sift the evidence and issue an even-handed report laying out the facts of the matter and determining what happened when and what the parents, Fate and Vonage’s roles or non-roles in the tragedy actually were.

But that would mean being Heartless Bastards as long as there’s a mother crying for her dead child in the room. Comfort the mother, gently escort her to her supportive family back at home, close the door, examine all the facts at hand and make sensible policy.

First CoffeeSM would like to reassure readers that neither Michael Isikoff nor Newsweek magazine were used as sources for this column.

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