Multi-line voice communications systems sold or installed after Feb. 16, 2020, must comply with new E911 obligations. These requirements apply to IP-based, cloud communications services as well as traditional TDM-based services. Systems sold after this date must be capable of performing two basic functions: (1) all phones tied to the system must be able to dial 911 directly, without first dialing 9 or another digit; and (2) a notice of the 911 call must be sent to a central location at the same time the 911 call is made. Eventually, these systems must also be able to provide location information. Below are frequently asked questions to help assess your readiness.
Frequently Asked Questions
What systems are covered by the requirements?
The direct dialing and notification rules apply to all multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) manufactured, imported or sold, leased or installed after Feb. 16, 2020. These systems serve office buildings, educational facilities, hotels, community developments and hospitals and can range from a few telephone lines to tens of thousands of telephones/numbers, which the cloud community refers to as seats. Outbound-only calling systems are also covered.
What about systems already in place?
The rules do not apply to legacy systems. The FCC, however, declined to specify what level of improvements to legacy systems made after Feb. 16 would trigger the requirements other than to reject claims that any improvements, no matter how minor, would be sufficient.
What are the direct dialing obligations and to whom do they apply?
Persons who manufacture, import, sell or lease MLTS must ensure that the systems are “preconfigured” such that, when properly installed, any user of a device on the system with dialing capabilities can dial 911 directly. “Preconfigured” means the system comes equipped with hardware or software capable of establishing a setting that enables direct dialing as soon as the system is ready to start making calls.
Persons who are in the business of installing, managing or operating MLTS must “configure” such systems to ensure direct dialing. Configured means the settings and configurations have been implemented so that the MLTS is fully capable of direct dialing once installed.
A person can have multiple roles; for example, a company can sell and then install and manage an MLTS.
What are the notification requirements and to whom do they apply?
A person engaged in the business of installing, operating or managing an MLTS must ensure that it is “configured” to provide a notification that a 911 call has been made. The notification must be sent to a central location at the facility where the system is installed, or to another person or organization regardless of location. The notification must be sent at the same time that the 911 call is made, if technically feasible; it must not result in a delay of the 911 call; and, it must be sent to a location where someone is likely to see or hear it. Examples include conspicuous on-screen messages with audible alarms for security desk computers using a client application, text messages for smartphones, or email for administrators. The location need not, however, be continuously staffed.
What information must be included in the notification?
The information must include, at a minimum: (1) the fact that a 911 call has been made; (2) a valid call back number, and (3) the same information about the caller’s location that is sent along with the 911 call.
Are there any exceptions or limitations to the notification requirement?
Yes. For example, a valid call back number need not be the extension of the particular phone from which the 911 call is made if a direct inward dialing number to that phone is not available. In that case, the call back number could be the number of a receptionist or front desk. No call back number at all, or location information, is required if it is technically infeasible.
There is also a general exception to the notification requirement for newly sold or installed MLTS that cannot be configured to provide notifications without an improvement to the hardware or software of the system. The FCC defines such an improvement as an upgrade to core systems, substantial software upgrades, or software upgrades that require a significant purchase.
What’s the difference between an installer, an operator and a manager of an MLTS?
The E911 obligations extend to installers, operators and managers of MLTS. The FCC defines these functions. An installer configures the MLTS and gets it ready to operate by, for example, establishing the dialing pattern for emergency calls, determining how to route calls to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), and determining where the systems will interface with the PSTN. The manager is the entity responsible for controlling and overseeing implementation after installation; for example, deciding how lines should be distributed (including moves and adds), assigning and reassigning telephone numbers, and ongoing network configuration. An operator is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the MLTS.
Who is primarily responsible for compliance?
There is great variety in the business and contractual relationships among entities performing these functions, which could raise issues regarding liability. The FCC determined that the MLTS manager is presumptively liable for noncompliance. The manager can rebut this presumption by showing that it complied with its obligations. The FCC will take a case-by-case approach in determining the entity managing the MLTS, and the determination of liability generally will be fact-specific. Contractual arrangements allocating implementation and maintenance responsibilities may be important in parsing liability.
Can a business owner be liable for noncompliance?
Yes. Larger enterprises often manage and operate their telephone systems, particularly if using on-premises equipment. Business owners that manage their systems thus may be liable for compliance even if the system was installed by a third party.
Is there an exemption for small businesses?
No, there is no general exemption for small businesses. However, the rules provide some flexibility and can be tailored somewhat to fit the customer’s circumstances.
What about state requirements?
Approximately 23 states have their own enterprise E911 requirements and these will remain in place.
When will caller location requirements take effect?
In addition to the direct dialing and notification requirements, enterprise 911 calls will eventually have to include a validated street address and additional information about the caller’s location, such as room number, floor number or similar information. Location information for calls from on-premises fixed devices, such as telephones in hotel rooms or fixed desk phones, must be provided within one year of the effective date of the FCC’s rules. For on-premises non-fixed devices, such as softphones or mobile headsets, and for off-premises devices associated with an MLTS, some form of location information will be required within two years of the effective date of the FCC’s rules, to the extent technically feasible.
Entities involved in the sale, installation, operation and/or management of enterprise calling systems should contact their regulatory counsel if they have any questions about these obligations and their respective responsibilities, including review or revisions of contract language.