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Salt Lake City: impressions after several months




Vonage Reviews

Computer-Based Phone Services May Lack Connection To 911 Line


Vonage In Print News

Computer-Based Phone Services May Lack Connection To 911 Line

January 19, 2004

By Joe Kollin

WESTON -- Need to call 911? If you are using a phone connected to one of those popular new computer-based telephone services, the response you get might not be what you expect. Known as voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP, the cheap phone service is available to anyone with a high-speed Internet connection. But the downside is that it is not necessarily connected to the 911 emergency line.

"It took years to train everyone to use 911 and now this is turning everything upside down," Weston City Manager John Flint said. "Inherent in 911 is that help is on the other end of the phone line and that help is on the way. That's not necessarily the case with VOIP."

Flint is taking steps to make sure residents know of the problem and at the same time is asking Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne to help change state law to so users of Voip service can easily access 911.

With VOIP, callers use regular telephones but the signal is transferred into digital data, sent over the Internet and reassembled into voice so the recipient can hold a normal conversation.

Because it requires no infrastructure or access fees, the service costs less.

Weston and Coral Springs are the only Broward County cities where the cable company is making Voip service available. The company that serves both cities, Advanced Cable Communications, began offering Voip about six weeks ago through Vonage, an Internet phone company. It has signed up about 100 customers so far, according to Jim Pagano, vice president and general manager.

But you don't need to live in Weston and Coral Springs to buy Voip service. Anyone with a high-speed Internet connection can buy it, even if the local cable company doesn't offer it. Comcast Communications, which serves most of Broward, doesn't yet provide its own Voip service, but its high-speed Internet customers can buy Voip from outside companies.

But all users face the 911 dilemma.

Vonage said it is careful to warn new customers about the pitfalls of 911.

"We fully disclose to our customers when they sign up that this isn't a traditional service," said Brooke Schulz, a spokeswoman for Vonage in Edison, N.J. "We understand Weston's concern but we think we're doing a good job of explaining it to our customer base."

Voip customers must specifically activate 911 service when they sign up. Vonage doesn't charge for the access and if customers refuse, they must sign a statement indicating their refusal, Schulz said.

The problem with 911 is a result of Voip being portable.

"You can't treat it as regular phone service because you can take the service with you from Florida to New York City, for example," Schulz said. "If you call 911 while in New York, the routers will see your 954 area code and bounce it back to Florida because 954 isn't native to New York."

Vonage customers who sign up for 911 provide their physical location so the company knows what city should get their emergency calls. But even when the call goes to the right city, it doesn't go the same way. Instead of going over a designated emergency line, Vonage must route the call through a 10-digit number, as if making a non-emergency call.

Operators might not be the same as those who usually take emergency calls, and even if they are the same, they can't see the caller's phone number and address, as 911 operators do.

Schulz said Vonage has not had 911 problems in other cities. Because Vonage is trying to resolve the problem, she said Weston's request for a state law isn't necessary.

Flint said he hasn't heard of any problems in Weston but wants to be proactive. To do that, the city plans to put notices warning of the 911 dangers in the quarterly newsletter it mails to every household. The city also will post warnings on its Web site, broadcast notices on its radio station and print a warning letter that Advanced agreed to mail to residents.

"Our ultimate desire is that there be no difference between Voip service and regular service when you call 911, but until that happens, it's up to the city to make sure residents using the new services don't expect the same high-quality service we've all become accustomed to with 911," he said.

This story also appeared in:
  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/19/04



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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 www.vonage.com/911 for details.

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