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Vonage Calls To Verizon's 911 Will Cost $10 Million

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Vonage Calls Verizon's 911

May 5, 2005

By Rhonda Ascierto

Vonage said it plans to spend more than $10m by the end of the year to set up a 911 service for its New York City-based Voip users using Verizon's wireless and wireline E 911 network. Vonage will pay at least $1m per month for the service on an ongoing basis, the company said.

And a similar deal with Qwest Communications International Inc is likely within the next several weeks, Vonage told ComputerWire.

The agreements reveal Vonage's mettle in becoming a primary phone service for its Voip users, amid growing Voip competition from networks, including Verizon, and other companies.

Under the deal, when a Vonage customer calls 911 within Verizon's territory, emergency services staff will receive the caller's physical location and callback number, similar to the way landline and mobile calls are handled.

Historically, this information for Voip callers was not sent to 911 services. When Vonage customers opted in for its existing 911 service, their calls were not always routed to appropriate emergency personnel.

The deal means Vonage can offer customers a more comparable service to traditional phone services than before. It also will help mitigate bad press surrounding two lawsuits slapped on Vonage in recent weeks by two US state attorney generals that accuse it of "misleading customers" about the limits of its existing 911 service. The suits were spurred by troubling reports of some Vonage user's 911 calls being sent to call centers or voicemail.

While Vonage plans to eventually use Verizon's E 911 elsewhere in the country, the service may not translate to significant new customer traction. "Are people going to sign up now there's 911? No," said Lynda Starr, senior analyst of IP communications with researcher and consultant Frost & Sullivan.

Verizon, which announced last week it was working with Voip sellers to share its E 911 network, is currently talking with other Voip sellers, said Verizon spokesman Mark Marchand.

Verizon has a Voip service of its own, called VoiceWing. Yet its move to open up its emergency network does not hurt the company any more than the existence of Vonage, in general, said analyst Starr. She said the launch of VoiceWing was essentially a defensive move by Verizon aimed at preventing VoIP-hungry customers defecting to Vonage.

In what may be construed as a dig at other phone networks, Vonage chief executive Jeffrey Citron said Verizon, unlike other incumbent local exchange carriers, has not recommended Vonage use a competitive local exchange carrier for call delivery.

Using CLECs for 911 service limits Vonage's reach, because CLECs do not accommodate Voip users who use a mobile or non-local phone number. Roughly 40% of Vonage's more than 700,000 customers use a non-local number, said Brooke Schulz, Vonage senior VP of corporate communications and regulatory affairs.

However, the built-in monopoly of emergency 911 networks, in which only one phone network in any given geography is designated for emergency 911 services, means Vonage cannot choose which bell companies it strikes deals with in the future.

In the past, ILECs have refused Voip providers the wireless interconnect elements they need to service customers with mobile phone and non-local phone numbers, Schulz said. Vonage is currently talking with SBC Communications Inc and BellSouth Corp about potential 911 deals, but Schulz said both are "trying to force us into the CLEC solution, which is just not workable for us."

Still, the combined coverage of Verizon, which operates in more than 28 states, and Qwest, which is in 14 states, will give Vonage traditional 911 capability in about half the country, Schulz said.

Problems with Vonage's existing 911 services have plagued the Edison, New Jersey-based company in recent months. On Tuesday, Connecticut's attorney general Richard Blumenthal sued Vonage for misleading customers there by failing to make clear they would not have traditional access to 911 services when using its Voip service. The suite will be filed in the Hartford Superior Court.

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Mix Cox sent Vonage a Notice of Intended Action citing similar claims. Cox has not yet filed a lawsuit.

The issue has not escaped the federal government's attention. The recently appointed chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission Kevin Martin had told Congress that it should be a requirement for Voip sellers to provide 911 services. The FCC has yet to act. Martin did not elaborate on details of such a requirement.

Specifically, the way Vonage's new 911 service would work is that a customer's 911 call is routed to its emergency 911 server, which then asks Intrado, a 911 operations support systems company employed by Vonage, for routing instructions. The call is then directly connected to Verizon's router that serves the Public Safety Answering Point.

At the same time, Intrado puts the customer's address and phone number into the Automatic Location Information database. The supplementary special key unique to the call is sent in signaling and allows the PSAP 911 operator to pull the customer's address and number from the ALI database. To do this, Verizon will modify and translate to the network elements in each PSAP service area that bundle the ALI and selective routing infrastructure.

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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