Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin said Tuesday that he would soon propose requiring Internet-based telephone providers to offer their customers emergency 911 dialing services.
After hearing reports of consumers having trouble getting through to police when dialing from an Internet telephone -- which uses a technology known as voice over Internet protocol -- Martin said he wanted to address the problem quickly.
Calls to 911 with traditional phones provide emergency service dispatchers with the caller's number and address. Internet-based phone providers have limited access to the systems connecting those calls to primary emergency lines and location information isn't always available.
"I immediately asked our staff to develop a plan to address this issue," Martin said during a House subcommittee hearing.
After the hearing, Martin told reporters he planned to offer a proposal to the other three FCC commissioners that could be considered next month.
He declined to offer more details about his plan. Martin said because the FCC insulated the Internet phone carriers from many state regulations, the agency had an obligation to act.
Martin said the agency should not be in the business of discouraging consumers about particular services and noted that the FCC had limited authority to regulate advertising.
The Federal Trade Commission and states typically oversee truth in advertising. The Texas attorney general has sued the biggest Internet-based telephone provider, Vonage Holdings Corp., alleging that it failed to properly warn its subscribers of the limits they would experience when trying to dial 911.
Vonage in recent weeks has reached deals with three of the four big local telephone carriers for its customers who dial 911 to be connected to the primary lines in emergency call centers.
"The marketplace is moving towards E911 access for all communications providers, but everyone's feet need to be held to the fire to ensure that nationwide rollout is completed as quickly as possible," said Chris Murray, Vonage's vice president for government affairs.
Also on Tuesday, regional phone company Verizon Communications Inc. said it had found a way to route Internet-based calls to dispatchers and provide the caller's location.
Reuters and Bloomberg News were used in compiling this report.