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"What's new with N11"

06/01/2007 Perspectives, the American Public Communications Council magazine

3891

By Stacey L. Bell

Wider deployment of 211, 311 and 511 – as well as a new use for 811 – may mean changes for your business

As Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a-changin’.”

Take N11 for example. For years, it seemed like there were few changes to N11 codes. But in the last few years, N11 activity has been heating up.

In July of 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigned 211 to community information and referral services and 511 for traffic and transportation information. Deployments of these two newer N11s are being spearheaded by national organizations, meaning more and more payphone service providers (PSPs) could be affected.

Further, on March 14, 2005, the agency designated 811 as the abbreviated dialing code that will be used by contractors and others before they conduct excavation activities. All payphones nationwide were required to route 811 calls to their state’s One Call Center by April 13 of this year.

“It’s important to keep current with what’s new in N11 codes because we have an obligation under federal and state regulations to grant access for certain N11 calls. In some cases, these calls must be free, and there must be signage on the payphone advertising these numbers – for example, calls to 911 and 711,” said Martin Mattes, a partner at Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott, a California-based law firm, and general counsel of the California Payphone Association (CPA).

Bruce Renard, executive director of the Florida Public Telecommunications Association, also noted the importance of keeping up with N11 changes: “Not only are you providing a public service by offering these calls, but their use could be an opportunity to generate additional revenue as the numbers of these calls increase.”

Mattes notes that individual states may have varying requirements for N11 codes, including different requirements for how PSPs can charge for such calls and what signage must be posted. Therefore, for each state in which they have payphones, PSPs should contact the appropriate public utility commission (PUC) and/or payphone association to learn the specific rules for that location and if any changes are anticipated. Contacting such groups about N11 updates every year or two should be sufficient, Mattes said.

How it works

Some of you may be wondering how this process works. As most of you know, N11 calls can be placed either as local calls (requiring a coin deposit) or via an 800 number. As you’ll learn when reading about the different N11 codes on the following pages, an 800 number “assigned” by a local or state regulatory body to an N11 call may be routed to a social services agency (in the case of 211) or to a government agency (for 311, 511 and 811). The completing carrier is to pay dial-around compensation to the payphone provider and then bill the call’s end point – that is, the social services or government agency – for compensation.

The FCC has made it clear that, under the Communications Act and its rules, payphone providers have a right to be compensated when their phones are used to complete coinless calls, including N11 calls, with the exception of calls placed to 911 and 711.

In its most recent Order dealing with 811 calls, the Sixth Report and Order on The Use of N11 Codes and Other Abbreviated Dialing Arrangements, the FCC specifically noted that such calls are compensable: “We agree with APCC that Section 276 of the 1996 Act does not exempt payphone calls made to One Call Centers from the statute’s requirement that payphone service providers be ‘fairly compensated.’ Therefore, coin calls made from a payphone to a One Call Center should be paid in accordance with that payphone’s established coin rate, and coinless calls made from a payphone to a One Call Center should be compensated in accordance with the commission’s payphone compensation rules.”

As use of N11 codes becomes more widespread and publicized throughout the United States, it is possible that payphone providers will encounter some compensation challenges. Some PSPs have told Perspectives that social service agencies in their areas already appear to be blocking these calls from payphones so they do not incur the costs associated with dial-around compensation. Therefore, payphone providers should take the time to check their call reports once or twice a year to see how many N11 calls are being made from their phones and if they are indeed receiving appropriate dial-around compensation. Now that you have a general overview, let’s delve into the latest news on each N11 code.

N11 basics

Three-digit abbreviated dialing patterns, or N11 codes, connect callers to a service by an easy-to-remember, shortened number rather than the traditional seven- or 10-digit telephone number.

An N11 code’s first digit may be any number other than 0 or 1, and the last digits are both 1. According to the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) Web site, “the FCC recognizes 211, 311, 511, 711, 811 and 911 as nationally assigned, but has not disturbed other traditional uses.”

“The FCC gives the official definition of what each code is to be used for, but it’s up to local officials to decide the best way to deploy each code in their area. For instance, to deploy 211, local officials should coordinate with all providers that offer such services in that locale, and the call could be a direct trunk, converted to POTS or be toll-free,” says John Manning, director of NANPA.

N11 codes 011 and 111 are unavailable because 0 and 1 are used for switching and routing. Here are NANPA’s descriptions for each N11:

211: Community information and referral services

311: Non-emergency police and other governmental services

411: Local directory assistance

511: Traffic and transportation information

611: Repair service

711: Telecommunications relay services

811: Access to One Call services to protect pipeline and utilities from excavation damage

911: Emergency

211

For years, PSPs used 211 as a shortcut for customers to call for payphone repairs or refunds. That use is being phased out nationwide, as 211 has been mandated as a number that citizens can use to reach essential services such as food banks, health care, job training and child and elder care. The program also lets would-be volunteers know what opportunities are available in their community.

“There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, and individuals and families often find it difficult to navigate through a complex and ever-growing maze of human services agencies and programs in search of the right resource. With 211, people have an easy-to-remember number that they can call, talk with someone and find out exactly which agency can meet their need,” explains Linda Daily, director of 211 for the United Way of America, which founded and oversees the program. Another 211 national leader, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, oversees the accreditation of 211 sites.

As of February 2007, 211 was serving 196 million Americans – more than 65 percent of the population – in 212 active 211 systems in 41 states. Nineteen states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have 100 percent coverage. (See Figure 1 to determine if 211 is active in your state.) Two sites in Oklahoma and one in Santa Clara, Calif., were the latest to come online at press time.

A National 211 survey found that 8,259,000 calls were made to 211 in 2006, compared with 6,734,000 calls in 2005. The organization doesn’t know what percentage of calls came from payphones, but it plans to encourage 211 sites to gather this information in the future. Jason Scherer, vice president of Pelican Communications Inc. in Danville, Calif., looked at how many 211 calls were made from his company’s 1,800 payphones during the first week of February. He noted that 21 calls, three of which lasted longer than 1 minute, were completed.

“211 sites collect data on the calls received, which is very valuable for communities,” noted Augustine “Tino” Paz, 211 manager. “They note where calls are coming from via their ZIP codes and the transactional nature of the call, and then they share the information with community leaders so they’ll know the needs and trends in their area. Other organizations also learn where to best direct their resources. 211 is a social barometer for communities, and it also plays a key role post disasters. In 2004 in Florida and in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we saw tremendous spikes in the volume of 211 calls in those regions. For one to six weeks following the tragedies, calls were up by 25 to 40 percent as people needed help finding emergency shelter, food and medicine in the aftermath of disaster.

“Payphones are critical to 211, especially in low income areas,” Paz continues. “This demographic is most likely to need access to community resources, and they rely on payphones for most of their communications. Many don’t have a landline or a cell phone. Payphones are essential for them to be able to locate and access the help they need.”

Paz notes that payphone service providers have been very helpful in cooperating, and he hopes more will do so and advertise the new use of 211 on their phones. “It can be very frustrating for consumers who are used to calling 211 to get a refund from the payphone to call and receive a 211 call center instead,” he says. “Our representatives aren’t sure who payphone customers should call for a refund, so it’s important to update the placards on the phones.”

Some PSPs are rerouting their repair and refund calls to 611 or to an 800 number. In New York City, many of the 24,000 independent payphones are routing callers to *2, says Les Shafran, executive director of the Independent Payphone Association of New York (IPANY). Implementation of 211 is still in its infancy in New York City. “DoITT, the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, is still working out the details and has notified its membership to stop using 211 for coin return,” Shafran says.

California PSPs have been using 211 for community information and referral services for years now. “We started informing our members about the change in 2001, even though most of the 211 areas weren’t to go live until 2005,” recalls Darla Jorgenson, CPA executive director. The CPA worked with the PUC on the implementation and negotiated a number of changes to the original proposal, including allowing PSPs to continue using 211 for service and repair calls until a new use is active in their area, and permitting payphone providers to charge for calls if they’d like. Jorgensen noted that the payphone association has encouraged its members to allow 211 dialing on a coinless basis.

“Our best decision was getting involved early in the implementation,” she continues. “It was important to explain the payphone industry to 211 representatives so they could understand how payphones work and how we are compensated for the use of our phones, and they explained to us that the market segment most likely to use 211 and to use payphones overlaps. In addition, users of 211 are likely to make additional calls from our phones. For example, someone calling for counseling will be given the number of a recommended counselor and will then need to place that call. Most 211 calls handled by our members are sent via an 800 number rather than charging callers the price of a local call, and our members are relying on dial-around payments for their compensation.”

Certainly, 211 is making great strides in deployment throughout the nation, and members of Congress are working to further broaden 211’s reach. In January, Rep. Anna Eshcoo, D-Calif., introduced the Calling for 211 Act of 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., introduced an Act of the same name in the Senate. Both pieces of legislation call for $700 million in funding through fiscal year 2013 to enable nationwide implementation of 211 services. Daily notes that similar legislation has been introduced in past sessions of Congress, but the United Way is very optimistic that it will be passed and signed into law in 2007.

If that is the case, PSPs in those areas not yet covered by 211 may see activity even sooner than they would have otherwise. In the meantime, United Way is promoting 211 through social services agencies and libraries and on bus and subway placards. A national advertising campaign is likely to debut in another year or two, which should fuel additional interest in the program – and calls to 211 centers from payphones.

For more information on 211, please visit www.211.org, http://national.unitedway.org/211/ and www.airs.org.

311

The FCC assigned 311 nationally in 1997 as the number for people to call for non-emergency and government services, such as filing noise complaints, seeking information on recycling and trash pickup or library hours, etc. Numerous cities now have operational 311 programs to help streamline citizen communications with local agencies.

Minneapolis 311 reports that, without access to 311, residents would have to scan through more than 200 seven-digit city numbers to try to fine the right agency to answer their questions. Now, they simply dial a three-digit number and are directed to the proper place.

The city and county of San Francisco rolled out its 311 program on March 29 of this year. In a letter to the CPA, Maria Garcia, executive assistant for the program, noted that citizens used to have to browse through 2,300 phone numbers to find the correct city service. Further, she stated, “city government agencies annually receive over 7 million phones calls, 1 million e-mails, 100 million Web hits, 4 million in-person visits, 300,000 letters and 100,00 faxes. Forty percent of those service requests are never fully address. . . .311 is a toll-free, non-emergency number that the public can call to access information about San Francisco government services … 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … 311 will significantly reduce the usage of duplicate and non-functional telephone numbers, provide critical information to the public after a catastrophic emergency and most certainly relieve the 911 operators of non-emergency calls.”

San Francisco’s 311 has asked local PSPs to voluntarily program their phones with 311’s new use and consider making it a free call. Jorgenson notes that most calls from payphones are being routed via an 800 number.

Since New York City implemented 311 in March 2003, its call center has received more than 30 million calls. “311 deployment is going very well. It’s citywide now,” Shafran says. TCC Teleplex’s Alan Rothenstreich notes that NYC requires payphone providers to list 311 as a number for non-emergency complaints or city information on their placards and he says 311 callers pay the same rate as a local call.

411

Callers have used 411 to reach directory assistance for decades. Different states have different rules addressing 411 and payphones. Some require these calls to be free; others specify a maximum price that can be charged.

“Florida is unusual in that if you provide a phone book at your phone, you are allowed to charge for calls for directory assistance for local and intrastate long distance calls. If you don’t provide a phone book, you are not allowed to charge for these DA calls. Many PSPs choose not to provide phone books since they’re costly and difficult to maintain. For interstate calls, you’re allowed to charge directory assistance, and there is no set limit on the amount that can be charged,” Renard notes.

511

Rhode Island recently launched its statewide 511 system, bringing to 26 the number of states that have fully operational 511 systems in place. (See Figure 2 to see if your state has a 511 program.) As of Dec. 31, 2006, 36.5 percent of the U.S. population was covered by 511, which provides information about roadway construction and congestion, bus and subway delays, weather reports, homeland security alerts, and other data useful to travelers and tourists, all at the touch of three buttons.

The 511 Deployment Coalition projects that 511 will be accessible to 67 percent of Americans once Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, Southern California and other regions come onboard later this year. The coalition is composed of professionals from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Public Transportation Association, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The coalition survey found that consumers use and benefit from the program. In Virginia, 93 percent of survey respondents said they were aware that they could receive traveler information by dialing 511, and half of those people said they had changed their travel route based on a 511 report. In Florida, travelers reported that using 511 “gave them a sense of security and peace of mind knowing they were avoiding possible unsafe situations caused by weather, road construction or accidents.”

“511 rolled out statewide in Florida in July 2005,” Renard reports. “We provided an 866 number to our members. For phones located at gas stations and convenience stores along major highways and at truck stops, I could see them getting enough calls to 511 from their payphones to add up to decent revenue. There are billboards along the highways, and by further advertising this service on payphones at these sites, PSPs may be able to gain increased revenues.”

In Kentucky, some PSPs say 511 call volumes – and the associated dial-around – have increased on phones located alongside busy interstates and rest stops. As a result, “our association members have put in orders for 511 stickers for our payphones so that we can make one large order and get a volume discount,” reports George Sowards, president of Premier Payphone Services Inc. in Bowling Gree, Ky., and president of the Kentucky Payphone Association. “We’re promoting to customers that they can make coinless calls to 511 from our payphones to access road and weather information.”

In California, Scherer of Pelican Communications reported that 29 511 calls were made from his payphones in the first week in February, and two lasted longer than one minute.

“There are two aspects to 511,” Mattes says. “People calling for travel information on highway traffic reports, etc. will most likely call from their cell phone or their home or office line. The second component, people calling to get updates on public transit, such as bus or subway schedules or delays, will more likely be where payphones come in.”

So phones near bus stops and other public transit locations are prime spots to post stickers advertising 511. Even if the initial call is free, follow-up, revenue-generating calls are likely, Mattes points out.

While the California PUC encourages PSPs not to charge for 511 calls, in very large geographic areas – such as in San Francisco, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego – a single local number to access the 511 call center would end up being a toll call for a lot of people anyway. Therefore, many transportation agencies have arranged for 800 numbers so that calls will be free for consumers, Mattes says. And while PSPs have to wait to be reimbursed via dial-around revenue, at least they are being reimbursed for these calls, helping to offset the expense of maintaining a vital public communications tool.

For more information on 511, please visit www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/511/ or www.deploy511j.org

611

Traditionally used by local exchange carriers (LECs) to route callers to repair services, 611 is now increasingly being used by PSPs for this same function. Payphone providers used to ask callers to dial 211 to receive a refund or to report a payphone problem, but 211’s new use has forced them to seek an alternative number. Therefore, PSPs increasingly have turned to 800 numbers or another abbreviated number as their new repair/refunds line.

711

Based on Section 276 of the Telecommunications Act, calls to 711, or the Telecommunications Relay Services, are mandatory and free from payphones. However, long distance charges may be applied to 711 calls after connection by the relay service to the called number. Carriers are urged to offer discounted rates for these calls due to the increased time required by relay conversations.

811

You may have seen advertising campaigns for “Dig Safely” or “One Call Does It All” in the past. Such promotions have encouraged people to call and notify their local or state One Call Center of their plans to dig on a property so that utility companies can mark where pipeline and wires are buried so they won’t be damaged.

The nation’s 71 One Call Centers receive about 15 million calls annually, yet a significant number of people still do not call before digging. Therefore, the FCC designated 811 as a nationwide number in hopes that a single, simplified number will greatly reduce the 400,000 accidents each year that are caused by someone striking underground utilities while digging. Many of these accidents result in injuries or fatalities.

“The commission ordered that 811 be operational two years from publication of its designation in the Federal Register [which occurred April 13, 2005],” reports Mark Wigfield, FCC spokesman. “One Call Centers must provide their toll-free numbers to carriers to ensure that callers who dial 811 do not incur toll charges.”

Jorgenson doesn’t believe 811 will have much impact on payphone revenue. “My take is that a lot of people will use 211 to access community services, and I can see tourists and travelers calling 511 for highway and public transit updates,” she says. “But I’m not so certain that many people will use a payphone to call 811 since most excavations take place at a home or business property, and you’d think a homeowner or contractor would call from their home or business line.”

911

Ninety-nine percent of the U.S. population has access to 911, reports Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) in Arlington, Va. “Ninety-seven percent of countries have access to e911, or enhanced 911, which is routed to the right PSAP [public safety answering point] along with the callback location and phone number,” Halley adds.

NENA estimates that there are 200 million to 210 million calls to 911 annually, with half of these calls originating on cell phones. Of course, every call made to 911 could potentially be a matter of life or death, which is why the FCC has mandated that such calls should be free.

Millions of 911 calls also are made from payphones each year, so it’s critical that any use of new technology, such as voice over Internet protocol (VolP) for dial tone, still allow workers at the nation’s 66,133 primary and secondary PSAPs to see exactly where a call originated.

“This could be a future problem as payphone providers find ways to use IP telephony since some IP systems don’t connect a caller’s location and phone number with the call like traditional landlines do.” Mattes says. VolP providers are aware of this challenge and have been working to rectify the situation.
 

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