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Using Our Extensive Communications Knowledge To Your Advantage

Julian Gehman assists corporate managers in negotiating communications services agreements with carriers and other providers.  Julian focuses on realistic negotiating positions based on existing contract, or modifications that can be accepted by the carrier.  For a new purchase, Julian advises on preparing the RFP and screening responses.  Julian also advises companies on the regulatory and legal status of telecom services. 

Representative client: The Dow Chemical Company

Communications Services

Enterprises are cutting the cord from circuit-switched telephones and migrating to all IP-based systems. One popular IP-based system is unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Often this is a cloud-based service.  With UCaaS, the carrier may own and maintain the equipment and provide IP-based telephony, mobile, conferencing, messaging, presence, IM, applications, and other services. This frees up the company to focus on its core business. The efficiencies and cost savings of a well-priced UCaaS offering can be compelling.

Many vendors offer UCaaS, including RingCentral, 8X8, Fuze, West, Mitel, Orange, Vonage, Microsoft, Google, BT, Verizon and AT&T, to name a few.  UCaaS offerings typically ride on one of two platforms: Microsoft’s Skype for Business and Office 365, or Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration and Unified Communications solutions.

In order to negotiate a strong contract, you should be aware of certain pitfalls in migrating away from circuit-switched phone service. Here are some areas to special attention to.

911 Emergency Calls

  Hang on to the PSTN

911 service demonstrates that you should not truly cut the cord and eliminate all traditional telephone lines from your facility.   UCaaS rides on broadband data links that are less reliable than the public switched telephone network (PSTN).  In an emergency situation (e.g., burning building), the broadband data link is more likely to go down than is plain old telephone service.  Cisco’s Survivable Remote Site Telephony addresses this by connecting to both the broadband data link and to the PSTN.  If the data link loses connectivity, the Cisco solution fails over to the PSTN.  In order for that to happen, the facility would need to retain lines to the PSTN.  In addition, the facility preferably should have an alternative method of calling 911 that is independent of UCaaS which, again, probably means retaining PSTN lines.

Be aware of state 911 law

The premise of UCaaS is: We do it all for you! The UCaaS provider may promise to own, service, and maintain the equipment and run the network. This might give the impression that everything will be taken care of. Not so, however, when it comes to 911. UCaaS providers try to make the customer responsible for compliance with 911 requirements. For example, Verizon's service guide (E-911 Appendix to the Terms of Service for Business Connection) states, "911 emergency calling service laws may also apply to Customer and it is solely Customer's responsibility to understand and comply with such laws." Verizon’s disclaimer is typical of the industry. So-called “FCC compliant” 911 service may not comply with the laws in many states.

Companies should negotiate a carefully worded contract specifying how the UCaaS provider will follow applicable state laws and ensure that 911 service does not constitute an unsafe condition in the user's facilities. Carriers have been required to include E911 as a standard feature in their VoIP service. Now, they want to charge extra for advanced 911 service that complies with individual state laws. Enterprise managers should be aware of this and negotiate pricing appropriate to the overall level of service provided.

Data Security and Privacy

Unauthorized access

Transitioning to cloud- and IP-based phones makes the system less secure than a traditional circuit-switched system. With circuit-switched telephony, an eavesdropper usually needs physical access to telephone lines or equipment, and the ability to install and maintain a wiretap. By contrast, IP-based telephony is a broadband data network that may be connected to the Internet.  It presents a larger attack surface. This potentially allows hackers with no physical access to mount attacks. The potential for mischief by a disgruntled employee also increases with an IP-based system.

Security of employee database

UCaaS supports soft phones that can work wherever there is a broadband Internet connection.  In order to allow emergency response to pinpoint the source of a 911 call, UCaaS requires an extensive employee database that is updated with location information each time a soft phone logs in.  This database can include the employee’s name, position in the company, assigned location, desktop and/or softphone telephone number, cell phone number, email address, IP-based identifier, and so on.  This database is shared with the UCaaS provider in order to facilitate 911 calls.  However, the database also serves as a magnet for a data breach or other misuse of this sensitive data.

FCC rules govern carriers' treatment of customer proprietary network information (CPNI), which was recently expanded to include greater privacy protection, as well as rules limiting use of customer information by broadband providers. These rules may not include the kinds of protections most companies require to protect their network, including employee information. An enterprise should negotiate adequate security and privacy protections in the UCaaS contract.  In addition, the enterprise should implement internal security measures to protect the employee database.

Disabled Employees

Enterprises are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to handicapped employees, including deaf, hard-of-hearing, speech-disabled, and deaf-blind employees. In traditional circuit-switched telephony, the carrier offered text telephone (TTY) as a standard feature. Many retail businesses publish a TTY number for their hearing-impaired customers, along with the company's regular voice telephone number.

However, TTY does not operate well over IP-based telephony. Some of the problems are packet loss, distortion of TTY tones, and echo or other noises. It is not certain that TTY over IP-based telephony would constitute a reasonable accommodation for hearing-impaired employees. The industry has introduced real-time text (RTT) to replace TTY in IP-based systems. RTT is a superior service for IP-based voice systems. The FCC does not require wireline, VOIP carriers to provide RTT as a condition of service. Of course, carriers would be happy to sell RTT to users as a separate service for an additional charge. This is like 911 service where, previously, carriers provided compliant service as a standard feature, but now they charge extra for an additional service.

The enterprise customer should ensure that the UCaaS contract obligates the carrier to offer appropriate accommodations for any handicapped employees and takes into account any additional charge in the overall pricing of the contract.

For assistance in negotiating a communications services agreement or advice on the regulatory and legal status of telecom services, contact Gehman Law PLLC.