The regulatory mish-mash in this country that is the 911 environment needs clearer definition to include IP Telephony sites and services.
A recent USA Today article (March 1, 2005) flagged the life-and-death issues in 911. The story showcases a family that struggled with robbers in their home and the call to 911 was not delivered since the family used a VoIP service provider.
It was only a matter of time that this issue would blow up and cause significant public safety concern. E911 was built by phone companies sharing their monopoly-derived knowledge of physical location and network address (telephone number) and sharing that appropriately with local public safety resources. However, this one-for-one relationship is destroyed when you introduce voice over IP or enterprise IP Telephony… the number someone is calling from does not have to be associated with a static, physical location.
Providing emergency response service is the objective, but the mechanism and practices required to do the fundamentally awkward – make physically-independent addressing work as if it was physically-dependent addressing – is something the telecom industry is considering for release later this spring.
I'd like to think that the industry would and should deliver a system that enables appropriate public safety services without compromising the technology advantage of the newer technology. Maybe, now is the time to establish a national E911 service with local service control and routing… you know, like a distributed call center.