Legal Alerts Feb 16, 2018

New Federal 911 Law Could Impact Many Public Agencies and Businesses

Kari’s Law Sets New Requirements for Multi-Line Telephone Systems

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Today, H.R. Bill 582, known as “Kari’s Law” became federal law. Kari’s Law amends the Communications Act of 1934 to require most multi-line telephone systems to be pre-configured so users may call “911” without dialing any additional digit, code, prefix or post-fix, including any trunk-access code, such as the digit “9.” Additionally, a MLTS must be capable of sending alerts to a designated central point of contact, either within the building housing the system or to an outside location, when someone uses the system to call 911 if the system can be configured to provide such notification “without an improvement to the hardware or software of the system.”
 
Kari’s Law applies to manufacturers, importers, sellers, lessors, and those engaged in the business of installing, managing, or operating multi-line telephone systems, but Congress did provide two years to come into compliance.
 
What Does This Mean for Public Agencies and Businesses?
Many agencies and businesses “operate” or “manage” a multi-line telephone system within the meaning of the statute, and therefore should understand and comply with Kari’s Law. A MLTS has historically described circuit-switched telephone technology, but IP-based systems — like cloud-based systems — are increasingly used to support voice communications. MLTS are frequently used in office buildings, as well as hospitals, schools, government agencies and hotels. Any agency or business that controls or is otherwise responsible for configuring its MLTS should assume it is the “operator” or “manager,” and therefore is responsible for complying with Kari’s Law. Even entities that are MLTS users but not operators should minimize risk by getting in touch with their contracted provider to ensure compliance.
 
Agencies and businesses should also determine whether their MLTS can be reconfigured to meet the Law’s notice requirements without necessitating software or hardware “improvement” within the meaning of the statute. Kari’s Law does not further define “improvement,” but the Congressional Record associated with Kari’s Law indicates that an “improvement” could include “upgrades to the core systems of a MLTS, but not the addition of additional extensions or lines,” and/or “substantial upgrades to the software, particularly those requiring a significant purchase.” By contrast, “[m]inor software upgrades that are easily achieved or are made to improve the security of the system would not be considered an ‘improvement.’”
 
Further, agencies and businesses should determine whether applicable state law provides more stringent requirements. Kari’s Law does not prevent state commissions or other local agencies with jurisdiction over emergency communications from imposing more stringent rules, provided any rules are consistent with the federal Kari’s Law. For example, in 2016, Texas adopted a stricter version of Kari’s Law under its administrative code.
 
What Is The Penalty For Failing To Comply?
 Any “willful and knowing” noncompliance may lead to a fine of up to $10,000. Violators may incur additional penalties, including up to $500 for each day of noncompliance.
 
What’s Next?
 We expect more changes with respect to MLTS laws and regulations as Congress and the FCC continue to address “E-911” issues on a bipartisan basis. The FCC is empowered to create rules and regulations to enforce the Communications Act, of which Kari’s Law is now a part. At the FCC, the Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau is  reviewing responses to an Notice of Inquiry release last year acknowledging that MLTSs often do not communicate a 911 caller’s call-back or location information to Public Safety Answering Points, which can delay the response time of emergency responders.
 
For more information on Kari’s Law and how it may affect your agency or business, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert to the right in the firm’s Telecommunications practice group, or your BB&K attorney.
 
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.
 

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