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What are the E911 location tracking requirements for VoIP?

The rules around E911 location tracking have evolved as more businesses move away from traditional wired connections to VoIP. Here's how to stay compliant with FCC regulations.

As business devices become increasingly portable, organizations have a legal obligation to ensure emergency services can receive a device's correct address.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed and supplemented its 911 rules a few years ago for voice over IP (VoIP) subscribers. You must:

  • Provide an accurate physical address to your interconnected VoIP service provider to ensure emergency services can be quickly dispatched to your location. VoIP providers are required to have a means of registering customers' physical addresses.
  • Be familiar with your service provider's procedures for updating your address, and keep your address up to date.
  • Consider having a backup, plain old telephone service for times when the internet is down and VoIP services are unavailable.

The FCC requires VoIP providers that use public switched telephone networks (PSTN) to meet Enhanced 911 (E911) location tracking requirements and obligations. E911 systems have to provide a callback number and location information. These systems are mandatory for PSTN VoIP systems and businesses may not opt out for any reason. The physical location is used to order the circuit and supply the E911 location tracking info to emergency authorities.

For transient devices like softphones, each device must contain an automated location information database, which provides their exact locations within a building. These databases were historically updated manually, but now that process can be automated to assure smooth entry, testing and locations services.

In the case of wireless phones, there may be a designated person to call who can gather location information and forward it to the proper authorities. Panic buttons and blue phone stations, like those used in parking lots and other large areas, can also be used in desk clusters and other designated spots in an office. These provide a fixed-location means to call 911 even where softphones are in use.

There are certainly other options in the market, and I encourage you to issue a request for information to learn what is out there and available in your market. New offerings are popping up for ceiling-based sensors, too.

Be sure to reach out to your 911 providers to check local regulations about E911 location tracking. In some cases, they may be more stringent, and you want to be sure that you are fully compliant.

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