The FCC’s Battery Back-up Order takes effect on Feb. 16, 2016.  The Order requires all facilities-based VoIP providers with more than 100,000 U.S. customer lines to provide customers the option to purchase battery backup power and to make detailed disclosures related to the power issues associated with the equipment, especially in emergency situations.  These requirements will become applicable to smaller providers on Aug. 11, 2016.  

Backup Power Requirements

By the effective date, providers are required to offer customers the option to purchase a battery backup rated for at least 8 hours or otherwise ensure that a technical solution for eight hours of standby backup power is available for consumers to purchase at the time of sale.  Providers are free to leave the decision to purchase backup power to consumers.  Providers do not need to offer backup power options to existing customers or retrofit existing customers’ equipment, but are required to provide annual disclosures to all customers (described below) and the option for customers to self-install commercially available backup power solutions to the extent compatible with existing equipment. By February 2019, all providers will be required to offer an option for 24 hours of standby backup power.  However, one compliant option will be to offer customers the ability to purchase three 8-hour batteries, so this requirement will not require new innovation in the event that the batteries offered by manufacturers do not have 24 hour capacity by that time.

Disclosure Requirements

Also by the effective date, providers must disclose to each new customer, at the point of sale, and annually thereafter, the following:1

  1. the availability of at least one backup power option offered by the provider;
  2. service limitations with and without backup power during a power outage;
  3. purchase and replacement options, including cost;
  4. expected backup power duration;
  5. proper usage and storage conditions for the backup power source;
  6. how the customer may extend the provision of backup power during longer, multi-day outages through devices such as solar chargers, car chargers, or mobile charging stations, and to direct customers to sources of such equipment;
  7. customer backup power self-testing and monitoring instructions; and
  8. backup power warranty details, if any. 

Subsequent annual disclosures, and disclosures to existing customers, can be done by any means reasonably calculated to reach individual customers, such as within the other annual notice materials already provided by cable operators.  For customers that are typically reached electronically – i.e., via email, an online billing statement, or other digital or electronic means – the disclosure may be done in the same manner.  However, the FCC made clear that notification solely by posting information on a public website and/or within a customer portal is not sufficient, and that electronic communication alone is not sufficient for customers that do not otherwise communicate with the provider through electronic means – for example those who ordered service on the phone or in a physical store and receive a paper bill.

Smaller Providers

For smaller providers, defined as those with 100,000 or fewer customer lines, the backup power solution and notification requirement becomes effective 300 days after publication in the Federal Register (August 11, 2016).  There is no similar extension for the February 2019 deadline for offering a 24 hour backup power solution.