The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that the CRTC is cracking down on Canadian VoIP providers who are not complying with 911 service requirements.
The story mentions that the new regulations likely mean that VoIP providers will have to offer full 911 functionality or risk being shut down. When calling 911 from anywhere in the country, your call gets routed to the emergency dispatch centre closest to you. This is how you get the police in Ottawa when you call 911 from Ottawa.
There are two types of 911 service: 911 and e-911.
With e-911, a special privacy law allows the phone system to identify a caller’s location from the billing records kept at the phone company. The phone company obviously knows where you live, so their computer tells the 911 system where you live when you make a call right away so your call is routed quickly to the right dispatch centre. For cellular phones, the location information is based off of cell tower triangulation.
With 911 over VoIP, your IP address doesn’t identify your location (it must be kept in the billing records of the phone provider), and for mobile VoIP, your location is often not your billing address.
VoIP providers can get around this if they have their own 911 routing centre which handles all 911 calls on their network. The operator would take the call, ask for the location, then transfer the call to the appropriate dispatch centre, adding time.
GPS on modern phones could be used to solve the problem, but it is often slow to acquire a lock, and doesn’t work well indoors.
What does this mean for Skype and other potential mobile VoIP providers? They can either build their own 911 routing centre, try to rely on phone location services, or not risk the liability and not operate.