Know Your Rights

VoIP in the United States - Key Regulations for VoIP Services

Written by Arthur
May 23, 2023
5 Mins Read

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates VoIP services and providers in the United States.

Understanding FCC’s VoIP regulations is critical for both VoIP service providers as well as users — ignoring them can land the provider or even the user in legal hot waters.

In this article, we discuss VoIP regulations in the U.S., including the FCC's rules and requirements for VoIP providers, emergency services, and consumer protection.

The FCC categorizes VoIP services into two categories:

  • Interconnected VoIP
  • Non-interconnected VoIP

FCC Guidelines for Interconnected VoIP

Interconnected VoIP services allow users to make and receive calls to and from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). FCC regulations regarding interconnected VoIP services cover the following key areas:

1. Emergency Services (911)

VoIP service providers are required to provide access to emergency services, specifically 911. According to the regulations, interconnected VoIP service providers must:

  • Allow users to call 911 so they can share location information with emergency responders.
  • Explicitly state the limitations, if any, of the 911 service. The service provider must also obtain an affirmative acknowledgment from the customer.
  • Keep 911 servers enabled by default. The customers shouldn’t have to activate the services themselves.

2. Number Portability

Local Number Portability (LNP) allows users of interconnected VoIP services to switch service providers while retaining their existing U.S. phone number. The FCC requires interconnected VoIP service providers to offer this option without charging.

3. Universal Service Fund Contributions

The FCC requires that interconnected VoIP service providers contribute a certain portion of the interstate and international revenues to the Universal Service Fund (USF). This percentage is called the contributing factor, which changes every quarter.

4. Disability Access

Interconnected VoIP providers must comply with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) according to FCC guidelines.

This is to ensure that persons with disabilities can access their services. To comply, VoIP service providers must provide access to Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) and ensure compatibility with assistive technologies like hearing aids and text telephones (TTYs).

5. Privacy and Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI)

FCC mandates interconnected VoIP service providers to comply with its rules for protecting Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI).

CPNI includes personal information like billing details, addresses, and call and messaging records.

Service providers can’t use, share, or disclose this information. They also can’t use it for marketing without the user’s consent.

6. Outage Reporting

Interconnected VoIP service providers must report significant outages affecting their networks per FCC guidelines. The FCC requires the service providers to submit a report using the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS):

  • Within 120 minutes of discovering the outage that might impact 911 services
  • Within 24 hours of discovering an outage that might impact 900,000 user minutes or more and result in complete loss of service, which may impact special offices and facilities.

FCC Guidelines for Non-Interconnected VoIP

Non-interconnected VoIP, also referred to as peer-to-peer VoIP, allows you to contact other VoIP users. However, unlike interconnected VoIP, it doesn’t allow making or receiving calls from PSTN users (i.e., landline and cell phone users).

Here are the key areas covered by the FCC regulations for non-interconnected VoIP services:

1. 911 Services

Unlike interconnected VoIP service providers, non-interconnected VoIP service providers aren’t required to provide 911 services.

However, a non-interconnected VoIP can choose to provide 911 services voluntarily. Non-interconnected VoIP services that offer 911 services must comply with FCC’s E911 (Enhanced 911) services rules, which include:

  • Automatically provide location information for 911 calls.
  • Route 911 calls to an appropriate Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
  • Prioritize 911 calls over other calls.

2. Accessibility Requirements

The CVAA mandates non-interconnected VoIP service providers to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The CVAA guidelines for non-interconnected VoIP service providers include the following:

  • Must ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities, except in cases where making provisions for accessibility will pose an undue burden or fundamentally alter the service.
  • Must contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund — a fund that supports relay services for people with speech or hearing disabilities.
  • Comply with the requirements related to recordkeeping and compliance certification.

3. Consumer Protection

Like interconnected VoIPs, FCC requires non-interconnected VoIP service providers to protect their customers’ privacy. Here are FCC guidelines for non-interconnected VoIPs to protect CPNI:

  • Never use, disclose, or allow access to CPNI without the customer’s consent.
  • Make provisions to protect CPNI from unauthorized access or disclosure.
  • Inform the customers about their CPNI rights and the company’s privacy policies.

What VoIP Customers Should Know

Here are a few points from a regulatory standpoint that VoIP customers should keep in mind:

- Learn about your rights: The FCC provides a list of consumer guides that provide information on how you can defend your rights. When a VoIP service provider doesn’t fulfill its obligations, you can register a complaint with the FCC, although FCC is selective about issues it takes up.

- Peer-to-peer services aren’t regulated: Peer-to-peer services that you might use for calling within your business network aren’t subject to the same regulations as interconnected VoIP services. This is because calls made using the enterprise network are viewed as calls from PSTN subscribers, which makes them exempt from regulation.

- Some FCC requirements impact your network design. In worse cases, non-compliance can lead to fines and legal action. Here are the most important rules to keep in mind:

  • E911 services should be correctly configured for multisite deployments (i.e., a network where users are spread across various locations and linked to a call processing site via WAN).
  • Support for TRS, including telephony enhancements for individuals with speech or hearing disabilities.

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About the Writer

Written by Arthur

A writer specializing in marketing and technology. Enjoy diving deep into the subject matter to create informative and engaging content.