Vonage, SBC Scrap Over E911

by Colin C. Haley

The VoIP provider decries a lack of cooperation; the carrier complains of breaking industry protocol.

VoIP upstart Vonage said regional carrier SBC rebuffed its recent offer to hold enhanced 911 (E911) trials.

SBC responded by saying Vonage is attempting to bypass industry groups working to solve the problem in hopes of providing "E911 on-the-cheap."

Vonage has been under fire recently. On Feb. 2, one of its customers in Houston was unable to reach an emergency operator during a home invasion.

The incident triggered a Congressional hearing and a lawsuit from the state of Texas.

Jeffrey Citron, Vonage CEO, made the collaboration offer to Ed Whitacre, SBC's CEO, in a Feb. 18 letter. "I ask for your cooperation in launching an effort to test and deploy a joint VoIP E-911 solution within the next 30 to 60 days," Citron said.

Such an effort would require SBC, which operates in a 13-state region, to open some routers and databases, Vonage said. Christopher T. Rice, SBC's executive vice president of network planning and engineering, responded.

"We cannot agree ... to participate in a separate, proprietary trial with Vonage, which is just one of many companies that provide, or will in the near future provide, Voice over Internet Protocol service," Rice wrote to Citron.

Instead, Rice said SBC will continue to work on industry interface standards. SBC is active in a number of groups, including the National Number Emergency Association, he said, adding that the group will hold its annual tech development conference next week, and E911 is on the agenda.

Wes Warnock, an SBC spokesman, echoed Rice's statements about working through the industry today.

"This industry has always sought solutions through industry-standards-setting organizations," Warnock told internetnews.com. "That's how it's done on the scale we're talking about. Rather than dismiss it, Vonage should embrace it and work within it like the 'broadband phone company' it claims to be."

Warnock said SBC sells 911 services to VoIP providers today. "Vonage appears more concerned about finding ways to provide E911 on-the-cheap."

Citron said he's disappointed with the response from SBC and renewed calls to begin trials.

This article was originally published on Thursday Mar 31st 2005