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FCC Imposes New Obligations on Multi-Line Telephone Systems and Other Providers (including Non-Interconnected VoIP) to Strengthen Access to E911 Emergency Services

In an effort to facilitate access to emergency services, the FCC has recently released a final order adopting rules to help ensure that people who call 911 from multi-line telephone systems (MLTS), which commonly serve hotels, office buildings, and campuses, can reach 911 and be quickly located by first responders. The new regulations will also improve access to emergency services for people who dial 911 from other platforms. These rules specifically implement Kari’s Law, which applies to MLTS only, and Section 506 of RAY Baum’s Act, which covers MLTS, fixed telephone service, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, Telecommunications Relay Services, and mobile texting services.

Kari’s Law and RAY Baum’s Act both define MLTS by cross-referencing the definition in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The order interprets the term “MLTS” to include “the full range of networked communications systems that serve enterprises, including circuit-switched and IP-based enterprise systems, as well as cloud-based IP technology and over-the-top applications.” The FCC further clarifies that the statutory definition of MLTS is sufficiently broad to cover the full range of enterprise communications systems, including legacy TDM MLTS, hybrid MLTS and IP MLTS systems and software, as well as all endpoints supported by MLTS including mobile and smart devices, softphone clients, over-the-top (OTT) applications, and outbound-only calling services. Outbound-only calling systems, including VoIP, also qualify as MLTS.

However, purely internal systems that do not connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) are exempt, as are individual components of the system. Accordingly, “manufacturers, importers, sellers, or lessors of individual MLTS components are not subject to the Commission’s MLTS rules to the extent that they manufacture, import, sell, or lease such components without the other components necessary for the system to function as an MLTS.”

Covered entities must be in compliance with regulations implementing Kari’s law as of February 16, 2020, and with the dispatchable location rules implementing Section 506 of RAY Baum’s Act either one year or two years after the effective date of the adopted regulations, depending on which RAY Baum rules apply to their business, as explained further in the discussion of each of these rules that follows. These rules will take effect 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register, at which time an update on the compliance dates under RAY Baum’s Act will follow. The order can be found here. A summary of key requirements follows.

Kari’s Law

Covered Entities

“Kari’s Law applies to any ‘person engaged in the business of manufacturing, importing, selling, or leasing’ an MLTS and provides that such persons may not manufacture or import an MLTS for use in the United States, or sell or lease or offer to sell or lease an MLTS in the United States, unless the system is pre-configured so that, when properly installed, a user may directly initiate a call to 911 from any station equipped with dialing facilities.” “Pre-configured” means “an MLTS that comes equipped with hardware and/or software capable of establishing a setting that enables users to directly dial 911 as soon as the system is able to initiate calls to the public switched telephone network, so long as the MLTS is installed and operated properly.” The FCC has concluded that the meaning of “person engaged in the business of manufacturing, importing, selling, or leasing an MLTS” does not require further clarification.

Kari’s Law also imposes obligations on any “person engaged in the business of installing, managing, or operating” an MLTS. Such persons may not install, manage, or operate the MLTS for use in the United States unless it is configured for direct dialing of 911. “Configured” means “The settings or configurations for a particular MLTS installation have been implemented so that the MLTS is fully capable when installed of dialing 911 directly and providing MLTS notification, as required under the statute and rules.” The new rules define “person engaged in the business of installing an MLTS” as “a person that configures the MLTS or performs other tasks involved in getting the system ready to operate.” “The MLTS installer may be the MLTS manager or a third party acting on behalf of the manager.”

Notification Requirements

Kari’s law also establishes notification requirements that must be satisfied contemporaneously with 911 calls. The mandatory notification made to the appropriate central location must communicate, at a minimum:

  • The fact that a 911 call has been made;
  • a valid callback number; and
  • the information about the caller’s location that the MLTS conveys to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) with the call; provided, however, that the notification does not have to include a callback number or location information if it is technically infeasible to provide this information.

The order further clarifies how the required notification may be transmitted. The FCC specifically identifies the following examples of permissible notification methods:

  • Conspicuous on-screen messages with audible alarms for security desk computers using a client application;
  • text messages for smartphones; and
  • email for administrators.

Similarly, the FCC expressly allows MLTS providers to include additional details in the notification as they deem appropriate, such as the occupancy status of a hotel room or the precise location of an IP device.

Equipment Authorization Rules

The FCC considered whether or not to modify its radiofrequency equipment authorization rules as they apply to MTLS equipment manufactured after the compliance deadline. It decided not to modify its equipment authorization procedures, finding existing requirements sufficient. In so doing, it emphasized its intent to “preserve flexibility and maintain technological neutrality.”

Compliance and Enforcement

Covered entities must be in compliance with the regulations implementing Kari’s law by February 16, 2020. MLTS manufactured prior to that date will be grandfathered in. Under the adopted rules, if an MLTS violates the rules, its manager is presumed to be at least partially liable for that failure. To rebut this presumption, the manager must prove compliance with the MLTS’s obligations under the statute and rules.

Section 506 of RAY Baum’s Act

Section 506 of RAY BAUM’S Act requires the FCC to consider adopting rules to ensure that “dispatchable location” information, such as the street address, floor level, and room number of a 911 caller, is conveyed with 911 calls, regardless of the technological platform used, so that first responders can be quickly dispatched to the caller’s location. The new rules apply dispatchable location requirements to MLTS, fixed telephone service, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, Telecommunications Relay Services, and mobile texting services. Mobile wireless services are already required to provide either dispatchable or coordinate-based location information with 911 calls.

Definition of “Dispatchable Location”

Section 506 of RAY Baum’s Act defines “dispatchable location” as “the street address of the calling party, and additional information such as room number, floor number, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.” Street addresses must be validated to enhance location accuracy. The adopted rules define “dispatchable location” in terms functionally identical to the FCC’s definition of “dispatchable location” in its wireless E911 location accuracy rules, except for the technological platform to which each definition applies, without further specifying the types of location information that may be required to locate callers in specific instances. Instead, they establish separate dispatchable location requirements for each of the following MTLS categories:

  • Fixed devices: Fixed MLTS devices, such as hotel phones and fixed desk phones, each connect to a single access point. Because of this simple design, the FCC concluded that “providing dispatchable location for 911 calls from fixed MLTS devices used on-premises is readily achievable,” that dispatchable location from these devices should be “provided automatically,” and that the endpoint’s street address should be validated. These requirements will take effect one year from the effective date of the rules adopted in this order, which will be determined when they are published in the Federal Register. This alert will be updated to reflect this determination.
  • Non-fixed devices being used on-premises: These devices include softphones and mobile handsets that can connect to multiple Wi-Fi access points and can move from one location to another within a building. “MLTS providers must convey automated dispatchable location for such devices when technically feasible but may rely on the MLTS end user to provide or confirm dispatchable location information manually, e.g., by responding to a system prompt.” These requirements will take effect two years from the effective date of the rules adopted in this order.
  • Non-fixed devices being used off-premises: Because of the added difficulty of locating and controlling these devices, “For off-premises 911 calls, 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 take effect two years from the effective date of the rules adopted in this order.

MTLS Roles and Responsibilities

The order imposes pre-configuration requirements on MLTS manufacturers, importers, sellers, and lessors, and configuration requirements on MLTS installers, operators, and managers. The order further clarifies that MLTS managers and operators have the right to rely on enterprise customers to gather, preserve, and update location information.

Location Requirements for Small Businesses

The FCC saw no need to adopt separate dispatchable location requirements for small businesses, explaining that the rules applicable to the various types of MLTS providers are sufficiently broad and flexible to address the unique needs and limitations of small businesses adequately.

Liability Protection

Congress has already granted partial immunity from liability to “wireless carriers,” IP-enabled voice service providers, and “other emergency communications providers,” as well as their “officers, directors, employees, vendors, and agents.” The adopted rules clarify that this protection covers MLTS manufacturers, importers, sellers, lessors, installers, operators and managers. The following protections also apply:

Fixed telephony: Fixed telephony providers have one year from the effective date of the adopted rules to begin delivering automated dispatchable location with 911 calls.

Interconnected Voice Over Protocol (iVoIP): The order adopts separate rules for fixed, non-fixed, and outbound-only iVoIP. Significantly, the new rules require outbound-only VoIP providers to provide 911 access and dispatchable location information.

Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS): For 911 calls from fixed internet-based TRS, Internet-based TRS providers have one year from the date of the effective rules to begin providing automated, validated dispatchable location for each call. For 911 calls from non-Internet-based TRS, however, Internet-based TRS providers have two years to start providing with each 911 call (1) automated dispatchable location, if technically feasible, or, otherwise, either (2) manual updating of Registered Location, or (3) alternative location information, which may be coordinate-based, sufficient to identify the caller’s civic address and approximate in-building location, including floor level, in large buildings when the first two are not technically feasible. “TTY-based TRS providers” and “Internet-based TRS providers who completely rely on their customers’ underlying voice service providers to handle emergency call set-up, routing, and provision of location information” are not subject to these requirements, because they are already required by law to provide location information.

Mobile Text Messages: The order adopts a uniquely flexible approach to text-to-911 requirements, requiring covered text providers to provide (1) dispatchable location, if technically feasible, or, otherwise, either (2) end-user manual provision of 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 existing technology or combination of technologies at reasonable cost.

Conclusion

As summarized above, the FCC’s new E911 requirements are sweeping and complex. As the FCC is now focusing closely on improving access to emergency services, it is critical that affected providers be aware of, and comply with their new obligations. The FCC will subject violators to steep fines and other sanctions.

Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC has experienced attorneys that can answer any questions you may have regarding these changes, and help guide you through the labyrinth of these new, highly-technical requirements. For further information, please contact Michael P. Donahue, Esq., mpd@commlawgroup.com or (703) 714-1319.

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