FCC Pursues New Rules for Multi-Line Telephone Systems

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The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to implement policies that will impact the manufacture and administration of multi-line telephone systems and their 911 dialing capabilities.

On October 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a proposed rule to the Federal Register, "Improving the 911 System by Implementing Kari's Law and RAY BAUM's Act." The new rule would implement two recently enacted laws, Kari's Law and a portion of RAY BAUM's Act. Each measure is specific to multi-line telephone systems (MLTSs)—which are often used in locations such as hotels, office buildings, and university campuses—and their functionality with respect to 911 dialing. The proposed rulemaking and associated statutes may impact those engaged in manufacturing, importing, selling, or leasing MLTSs, as well as those engaged in installing, managing, or operating such systems.

RAY BAUM's Act was enacted as part of an omnibus spending package in March 2018 and, in part, directs the FCC to "conclude a proceeding to consider adopting rules to ensure that the dispatchable location is conveyed with a 9-1-1 call, regardless of the technological platform used and including with calls from multi-line telephone systems." Therefore, the FCC's rule would add dispatchable location requirements to existing 911 rules for "fixed telephony providers, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers, and Internet-based Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS)." In doing so, the FCC proposes to forbid the manufacture, import, sale, or leasing of an MLTS unless it is configured to convey the dispatchable location of a 911 call to a public safety access point (PSAP). Likewise, the rule forbids the installation, management, or operation of an MLTS unless the system is configured to convey the dispatchable location of the 911 caller to a PSAP.

Some might remember that EDUCAUSE previously blogged about Kari's Law when it was enacted in early 2018. The law is named for Kari Hunt, who was murdered by her estranged husband in a Texas motel room in 2013. Her 9-year-old daughter repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to call 911 from the room; she was unaware the motel required a prefix to reach an outside line. Kari's Law remedies this shortcoming by requiring MLTSs to have a default configuration allowing users to directly dial 911 without additional digits or prefixes. In addition, the law includes an onsite notification requirement specifying that MLTSs should be configured to provide a notification to a central location when a user dials 911, so long as such configuration is achievable without "an improvement to the hardware or software of the system."

While many states already have their own laws stipulating as much, the passage of Kari's Law means that these requirements will eventually be applied uniformly nationwide. The FCC's proposed rule "takes steps to advance Congressional and Commission objectives to ensure that members of the public can successfully dial 911 to request emergency services" and seeks to clarify obligations of entities regulated under the statute.

In keeping with the language set forth in the law, the FCC proposes that the direct dialing requirements apply to "persons engaged in the business of manufacturing, importing, selling, or leasing MLTS, as well as persons engaged in the business of installing, managing, or operating MLTS." The FCC also proposes to adopt the requirement that "a person engaged in the business of installing, managing, or operating MLTS shall, in installing, managing, or operating the system, configure it to provide a notification that 911 call has been placed by a caller on the MLTS system." The system configuration should be capable of transmitting the notification to a destination point—a central location at the facility where the system is installed—or to another person or organization regardless of location. While the law is silent on what information must be provided in the notification, the FCC proposes that at a minimum, the notification should include the following information: (1) that a 911 call has been placed, (2) a valid callback number, and (3) the information about the caller's location that the MLTS conveys to a PSAP.

Noting in its proposed rule that "Congress sought to provide MLTS installers, managers, and operators with broad flexibility in selecting destination points," the FCC seeks further comment on whether it should pursue requirements with respect to the location, configuration, or staffing of notification destination points. The FCC is additionally seeking comment on the cost and expected benefit of the aforementioned requirements, acknowledging that they do "not believe Congress intended to impose staffing or monitoring requirements that would impose unreasonable costs or limit the flexibility of MLTS installers, managers, and operators to develop efficient and cost-effective notification solutions that are appropriate for the technology they use." With this in mind, the FCC states its belief that "allowing notification to be directed to the points where they are likely to be seen or heard by existing staff achieves these goals at a negligible cost."

Interested stakeholders may submit comments on the proposed rule until December 10. EDUCAUSE will keep members apprised of any notable developments.

Kathryn Branson is an associate with Ulman Public Policy.

© 2018 Kathryn Branson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.