VoIP and 911

By | March 23, 2005

An interesting case in Texas that highlights the weak spot in the whole VoIP thing:  Net Phone Firm Vonage Sued Over 911 Access, reports the LA Times:

As two gunmen forced their way into her Houston home Feb. 2, Sosamma John yelled to her daughter, Joyce, to call the police. Joyce ran upstairs, grabbed the phone and dialed 911. Instead of getting a police dispatcher, the frantic teen got a recording telling her that 911 wasn’t available from the family’s phone.
Joyce escaped the house to call from a neighbor’s — but not before the gunmen had shot her parents and fled.

On Tuesday, the state of Texas sued Vonage Holdings Corp., the nation’s largest Internet-based phone service provider, for allegedly failing to make clear that 911 calls weren’t included in a basic subscription.

The lawsuit highlights a challenge for the exploding business of Internet-based telephone service: Consumers attracted by the cheap rates may be giving up full access to emergency operators.

It also shows Internet phone companies and federal regulators, who are taking a hands-off approach to so-called voice over Internet protocol service, that state authorities are willing to step in with consumer-protection laws at their disposal.

It’s hard to imagine that VoIP services couldn’t provide some sort of emergency access, so perhaps this might be a blip. Or else it’s the thin end of a regulatory wedge that makes the whole cheap phone call thing a flash in the pan.

2 thoughts on “VoIP and 911

  1. Shannon Clark

    I am a Vonage user and they have been very good at reminding me to register and set up 911 service.

    See http://www.vonage-promotion.com/911.html for more details, the pull quote “Vonage offers 911 dialing to all customers. When you dial 911, your call is routed from the Vonage network to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for your area. There are several important differences between our Emergency Services dialing and traditional 911 dialing that you need to know:”

    Basically they offer it, but with some limitations. Further in the same website they detail a few of these:

    “Your Call Will Go To A General Access Line at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). This is different from the 911 Emergency Response Center where traditional 911 calls go.

    This means your call goes to a different phone number than traditional 911 calls. Also, you will need to state the nature of your emergency promptly and clearly, including your location and telephone number, as Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) personnel will NOT have this information on hand.”

    Hope this helps.

    (We met at PopTech this past Fall)

  2. Akshay

    Interesting – I got an e-mail from Vonage reminding me to activate my 911 facility just yesterday. Must’ve been because of this case.


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