Going the Extra E911 Mile

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Washington— Time Warner Cable is taking extra steps to satisfy federal regulators concerned that millions of voice-over-Internet protocol customers are unaware that emergency 911 service will eventually crash during a power failure.

Time Warner told the Federal Communications Commission last week that the company believed it had already complied with FCC rules regarding subscriber notification of potential 911 malfunctions.

But “out of an abundance of caution,” the operator said in a five-page letter that in the weeks ahead, it would remind customers anew about E911 issues they were told about and were acknowledged at the point of sale or installation.

Cable’s VoIP leaders — Time Warner, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, Charter Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. — are under pressure from the FCC to have 100% of VoIP subscribers aware about potential E911 shortcomings.

In a dramatic move late last month that caught cable by surprise, the FCC ordered the Aug. 30 disconnection of any cable VoIP customers if the companies can’t document that those customers have acknowledged the E911 warnings. Many in the cable industry are upset with FCC’s disconnection requirement, calling it medicine worse than the disease.

Among other things, Time Warner said it would mail an E911 advisory to all 640,000 VoIP subscribers and include FCC-mandated warning stickers in the parcel.

The MSO — which has the most VoIP subs in the cable industry — also said it had launched email and telephone campaign to distribute E911 notifications and collect acknowledgements.

In an FCC filing, Charter said that just 3%, or 1,500, VoIP subscribers had responded to a July 29 mailing by Aug. 9. The MSO said it is concerned that it will do no better than 65% by Aug. 30, and it complained that the FCC’s mandates were imposing burdens on its customer relations.

“Charter has received a number of complaints from customers some of whom have stated that they will disconnect their service if they have to provide the acknowledgement. Others are very concerned about being disconnected if they fail to return the acknowledgement,” Charter said.

While Time Warner told the FCC it would go the extra mile to notify customers, the MSO said that the routine company policies it has employed since its VoIP rollout began two years ago should be sufficient to meet FCC requirements.

“In light of these consents, [Time Warner] does not believe that there is cause to take further action, such as disconnecting service, with respect to any of its Digital Phone subscribers,” Time Warner said.

In other comments, Cablevision indicated that it had written acknowledgement from 98% of its VoIP subs and told the FCC it was taking additional measures to hit 100%. Unlike Time Warner, Cablevision did not discuss potential disconnection policies. The MSO, which serves the New York metro area, has at least 400,000 VoIP customers.