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Why Do I Get Warned About Emergency 911 Services (or the lack thereof)?

There's a long story and a short story to this. The short story is that, while we're not a United States Company, by regulation, in the United States, we're required by the FCC to warn you that you're not getting Emergency 911 (E911) services from us. If we don't warn you and they find out, we get fined, and your account gets terminated (assuming they extend their jurisdiction to the Bahamas which, knowing the US, is something they're liable to do).

The long story, and the reason behind this, is a little more complex. As with most things of this nature, it deals with the wondrous world of politics. Law enforcement is terrified that people will use SIP phones to coordinate the commission of crimes and it will somehow go hidden amongst the rest of the data on the Internet. To this end, they required that phone companies submit to something called CALEA, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. What this law does is give law enforcement agencies the right to spy on your communications over phone lines. It requires that phone companies make it EASY for this spying to occur, but it doesn't actually allocate any money to help them with this task. In order to make what seems like a pretty sticky bill pass through congress easier, they tacked on provisions for E911 services, making it very difficult for a politician to vote against it. The provisions mean that phone companies must have some way of sending your phone calls along with your name and address to Emergency 911 call centers if you dial 911 -- making it easier for the emergency services to find you. On the surface, that seems reasonable enough.

The difficult part comes with Voice over IP. While it's technically just another Internet service, like email, online gaming, instant messaging, and web browsing, because it looks like a telephone service, the FCC in the US recently ruled that it must conform the way telephone services conform. The regulations they put on it were that, if you offer SIP services which can connect to regular telephones, then you have to conform to the CALEA act and be prepared to implement E911 services. As I said, on the surface, this seems almost reasonable. But underneath, it creates an entirely NEW set of problems.

You see, when the phone companies put in their phone lines, they're what we call 'hardwired' links. It means there's a physical wire going from their central office to your house, apartment, etc. It's easy to put information about where that physical link is into a database, so that when you call from a phone connected to that link, they can easily determine your address for E911 services. ALL data passes through their central office, so if the law enforcement agencies want to tap your phone calls, all they have to do is set up something at the central office to record your calls.

Internet calls are, however, DRASTICALLY different. The nature of a SIP call is that all you need is an Internet connection. It could be anywhere. It could be at your home, at your office, at the local Starbucks, or, in the case of Wi-Max technology that allows wireless network access over enormous areas, it could really be anywhere in town. There's no real way to track down where you are connecting from at any given point. Requiring E911 services to be offered in such a situation becomes an impossible task. Many companies have created temporary solutions to get around these requirements, but they all involve requiring the users to input their physical location any time they want to log into the network. If you are using IdeaSIP from a mobile phone client, or a PDA, or a laptop in a coffeeshop or airport, this would mean you wouldn't be able to use the service unless you gave us an address of SOME kind in order to log in. And what about wiretapping? Since none of your voice traffic actually goes through our servers, we simply CAN'T tap your lines. It's just not possible. Not only that, but since many of our users are not from the United States, allowing the US to wiretap their calls would violate international law.

This is why we're required to warn you about E911 services. If we don't, we run into problems when doing business in the United States and any other countries that may follow their lead. We're committed to providing communication alternatives to anyone and everyone, offering the best in voice, video, and instant messaging -- even to the United States.

IdeaSIPSM is a ServiceMark of Infinideas, inc.
Copyright 2006 Infinideas, inc.