In the most recent example of a national trend that merges IT and public safety, a law went into effect in Massachusetts today – the start of a new fiscal year for the Bay State – that involves new requirements for enhanced 911, or “E911,” a technology which uses location-based services to pinpoint the location of distressed 911 callers.
The state is adopting standards for a State 911 Department, a single 911 surcharge and an enhanced 911 fund.
Under its new law, Massachusetts requires that any new or substantially renovated multi-line telephone system must offer the same level of E911 services provided to people in the state, including enterprise VoIP users.
The law gives the Taunton, Mass.-based 911 department the power to exempt “certain multi-line telephone systems” from complying based on costs and the public benefits of compliance. What’s more, accessibility for people with disabilities can only be waived if it is cost-prohibitive or technological infeasible.
Unlike traditional wireline phones that provide a caller’s location to emergency services, enterprise VoIP requires that the specific location of phones be programmed into an organization’s telephony network. This ensures that emergency responders can quickly find a 911 caller within a building or campus setting – often saving critical, even life-saving time.
Massachusetts’ law defines a multi-line telephone system as one that is made up of common control units, telephones and control hardware and software that provide local telephone service to multiple end-use customers in businesses, apartments, townhouses, condominiums, schools, dormitories, hotels, motels, resorts, extended care facilities, or similar entities, facilities or structures. The law now requires that these systems include: network and premises based systems such as Centrex, PBX (News - Alert) and hybrid key telephone systems. It also mandates systems owned or leased by governmental agencies, nonprofit entities and for-profit businesses
E911 hosted solutions provider Everett, Wash.-based 911 ETCapplauded Massachusetts’ recent effort, which officials there say demonstrates a growing interest for the service among U.S. states.
“It shows that more and more states understand the safety of PBX phone users is compromised if an E911 solution is not in place,” Kevin Kito, regional account manager for 911 ETC, told TMCnet in an interview.
Much of the telecommunications industry, which is heavily regulated, follows the goings-on of the 5-member agency in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communications Commission, whose decisions and policies often transform business priorities. Providers of hosted E911 solutions are no exception. For example, as TMCnet reported, 911 ETC is vigilantly watching the formation of the new FCC (News - Alert) under President Barack Obama’s administration.
The agency this week installed telecommunications industry executive Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) as its chairman. And only time will tell what other changes may take place regarding E911 services.
The FCC last year adopted new 911 rules for VoIP Service Providers under the NET (News - Alert) 911 Improvement Act, making partners in the nation’s E911 systems out of Internet-related communications providers and wired and cellular telephone providers. Since then, some vendors have been scrambling to ensure compliance, TMCnet said.
As a result, 911 ETC sees more states looking for legislation since the FCC enacted stricter rules for VoIP providers, William Svien, executive vice president for 911 ETC, told TMCnet.
Meanwhile, companies in the industry are asking themselves: Will the new law impact how providers attract new customers in Massachusetts specifically? 911 ETC said it will take a “consultative approach” to prospective clients, including those in the education and government verticals.
“We like to inform potential customers of any legislation or liability and then customize a solution that works best for the customer,” Michael Anderson (News - Alert), national sales manager for 911 ETC, told TMCnet. “This law is extremely important as it raises awareness of the problems associated with 911 in an Enterprise PBX environment. This in turn leads to a safer work environment for all.”
“It is important to let potential customers know that there are legal ramifications for not implementing an E911 solution,” Kito added.
While work continues by the federal government to create a national program, well over a dozen states now have enacted some form of E911 legislation, which requires enterprises over a certain size, those that occupy multiple floors of a building, or those that bought a newPBX, to implement E911 to protect employees and visitors. The goal is to assure residents using VoIP services they will have the same access to emergency services as traditional phone service and wireless service.
Already, 911 ETC is seeing signs of companies with sites in multiply states choosing to implement an E911 solution for all of their sites as a result of the Massachusetts legislation, Kito said.
The National Emergency Number Association has drafted a model of E911 legislation and a recommendation to the FCC regarding standardizing national E911 requirements. However, there’s still no consensus on implementing such a standard. Until then, states will continue to operate under their own laws.
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Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard