FCC Imposes New 911 Rules on Businesses that Operate Multi-Line Telephone Systems
After many years of threatening to impose 911 rules on businesses that operate multi-line telephone systems (MLTS), the FCC recently adopted new requirements that impose significant obligations on businesses that manufacture, install, configure, and operate MLTS. These new rules – for the first time – impose federal 911/E911 requirements on enterprise customers.
The following summary provides a high-level overview of the new FCC rules. Enterprises seeking to comply with the new 911 rules must, however, consider a variety of factors unique to their businesses, including the technology deployed in their IT environments and the network topology and geographic scope of their MLTS. Furthermore, over twenty states have already adopted various 911 regulations that apply in varying degrees to enterprise customers, creating a confusing patchwork of federal and state rules relating to 911 for businesses operating MLTS. As always with 911 issues, businesses must understand the specific legal and regulatory obligations imposed directly on them as owners and operators of MLTS as well as the specific sources of potential liability and risk associated with their networks, premises, and employees.
The FCC’s new rules address the following major issues:
Facilitating Access to 911
Businesses who “install, manage, or operate” an MLTS must properly configure any MLTS installed after February 16, 2020 to allow direct access to emergency services when callers dial 9-1-1, without requiring the dialing of additional numbers, such as “9”, to reach an outside line. In addition, businesses must configure their MLTS to transmit a separate and simultaneous notification to a central location on the premises from where the emergency call originated or to another person or location that can assist emergency services in reaching the caller. This requirement applies only if it can be implemented without an upgrade to the hardware or software of the MLTS. The contents of the notification must include the fact that someone dialed 911, a valid callback number and the same location information that the MLTS transmits to the public safety answering point. If the MLTS cannot provide a callback number or specific location information, the notification could include, for example, the internal extension number of the phone that was used to place the call or the number of the receptionist. The notification could be in the form of a pop-up message on a computer terminal with an audible alarm, a text message sent to smartphones, or emails to administrators.
Administrators of MLTS systems that are not covered by the new rules (e.g., systems first installed before February 16, 2020) are encouraged, but not required, to disclose to users any limitations on 911 dialing as part of voluntary best practices.
Transmitting Caller Location Information to Emergency Services
In addition to facilitating access to 911 emergency services, the new rules require businesses operating MLTS to transmit “dispatchable location” information with 911 calls placed through MLTS, fixed telephony, interconnected VoIP (a/k/a SIP trunking for enterprise customers), Telecommunications Relay Service (for the hearing impaired), and mobile text messaging. Dispatchable location information is defined to require: (i) the caller’s validated street address; plus (ii) any other information, such as apartment number, floor, or similar information, to adequately identify the caller’s location.
Different requirements apply to different kinds of devices used with an MLTS, and each requirement will become effective one or two years after the effective date of the FCC’s new rules, which will be announced at some point in the (presumably) near future. The summary requirements are:
- Fixed Devices – An MLTS that includes fixed devices like hotel phones or deskphones that connect through a single access point to the public network must automatically transmit dispatchable location information for 911 calls from those devices within one year after the FCC’s new rules go into effect.
- Non-Fixed Devices Used On-Premises – An MLTS that includes non-fixed devices used on premises (e.g., softphones or mobile handsets) must automatically transmit dispatchable location information for those devices (1) if it is technically feasible to do so, or (2) may rely on the end user to provide or confirm dispatchable location information manually, such as by responding to a system prompt. If it is not technically feasible or cost-effective to provide dispatchable location information for non-fixed devices, enterprises can transmit “alternative location information,” defined as the caller’s civic address and approximate in-building location which may be transmitted using alternative technologies). This requirement will go into effect two years after the effective date of the FCC’s new rules.
- Non-Fixed Devices Used Off-Premises – An MLTS that includes non-fixed devices that can be used off-premises must provide either (1) dispatchable location information for those devices if technically feasible, (2) manually-updated dispatchable location information provided by the end-user, or (3) enhanced location information, which may be coordinate based, consisting of the “best available” location information that can be obtained from available technology at reasonable cost. This requirement will go into effect two years after the effective date of the FCC’s new rules.
Most importantly for enterprises concerned about the legal and financial risks associated with 911 calls made from their premises or over their MLTS, the FCC confirmed that manufacturers, importers, sellers, lessors, resellers, operators and managers of MLTS enjoy the same immunity from liability that the FCC previously granted to wireless carriers and other emergency communications service providers in connection with their transmission of emergency communications. This immunity is intended to be at least as broad as the protections that are afforded to local exchange telephone companies under federal or state law. Understanding the scope of this immunity for your particular enterprise requires consideration of individual factors, including the geographic location of your MLTS facilities (and the callers of 911 using your MLTS facilities).
The new FCC rules reflect a major change in 911 obligations for enterprise customers. Enterprise users should ensure that existing MLTS systems are properly configured to comply with the new requirements, if technically feasible. Companies planning to invest in new MLTS would be well-advised to ensure that the new equipment will meet the FCC’s technical requirements even in advance of the February 16, 2020, general compliance date and ensure that the equipment is properly configured to operate in compliance with the new rules. Furthermore, companies need to understand all major sources of potential liability for emergency calls made by their employees, whether on their MLTS or from other company-issued devices, as well as calls made from non-employee individuals who may be located on their premises or using their MLTS. These can include state and even local laws. Organizations focused on enterprise-users, such as the Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee, provide valuable insight, regular updates, and advocacy on 911 issues for businesses that operate MLTS, all of which can greatly assist your organization in staying ahead of the compliance curve for 911 requirements. In addition, LB3 has been advising our enterprise clients on 911 compliance issues for over two decades.
If you have questions about the new FCC rules, how to comply with the new requirements, or how 911 issues might affect your enterprise generally, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to discuss your particular questions and concerns.