Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cable VoIP Phone Providers to Start Collecting E-911 Surcharge

Historically, Public Service Answering Points (“PSAPs”), the dispatch centers which receive emergency telephone calls when 9-1-1 is dialed, have been supported by the local landline telephone companies through a surcharge imposed on their customers. These surcharges, detailed in the state’s County Law, are normally 35 cents a month for each landline access line, but can range up to $1 in New York City. Wireless E-911 surcharges were subsequently imposed by counties and are generally 30 cents each month per wireless phone, but two counties (Onondaga and Tompkins) have been authorized to collect an additional 65 cents. Lifeline customers are specifically exempt from paying the E-911 surcharge.

With the migration of customers from traditional landline telephone service to Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) providers, such as the voice services provided by cable companies, the amounts collected on a monthly basis by the local landline companies and provided to the PSAPs have reduced considerably in recent years.

With the Governor's approval of S.3330/A.8088, effective January 1st, all VoIP providers, including nomadic VoIP providers such as Vonage, are now required to collect the surcharge and in the same amount as their landline competitors.

Not only does this new law provide needed funds to the county PSAPs so they can continue to offer their vital service, it is the first instance where the New York State Legislature has assumed jurisdiction over VoIP providers.

The disparity between how VoIP providers and the local exchange carriers are treated is much larger than just the financial support of PSAPs. VoIP providers, which offer identical services to the traditional telephone companies, also
  • do not pay the same state taxes,
  • they do not pay regulatory assessments to the New York State Public Service Commission,
  • do not participate in the Targeted Accessibility Fund (which supports E-911 connectivity, Lifeline discount telephone service, and the relay service for the deaf), and
  • are not covered by the state’s consumer protection rules or service quality standards.
See Staff Report Released after State Senate Hearing on Telecom Taxes; Acknowledges Need for Consumer Protections for Telecom Customers, PULP Network, September 30, 2009.
Now that the state has taken the first step in bringing VoIP providers in line with local exchange carriers for E-911 support, it should look to level the regulatory assessment and tax "playing field" for all competitors in all these other areas as well.

Lou Manuta

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