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Summary:

USAToday reports that VoIP users who think they have the same 911 service that landline customers have should double-check their service agreements.  A Vonage customer in Houston discovered the hard way during an armed robbery in the family home that the 911 service did not work […]

USAToday reports that VoIP users who think they have the same 911 service that landline customers have should double-check their service agreements.  A Vonage customer in Houston discovered the hard way during an armed robbery in the family home that the 911 service did not work and two adults were shot during the ordeal.  A teenaged daughter in the home tried frantically to call 911 from the Vonage phone line and could not make a connection.

The customer’s phone service provides basic 911 service but Vonage leaves it up to the customer to activate it before it can actually be used.  Even if the 911 service had been activated by the customer both Vonage and ATT&T offer a basic service that does not provide emergency dispatchers with caller ID information nor are 911 calls routed directly to the local 911 center directly.  Some 911 centers will not take the calls for those reasons leaving many VoIP customers unknowingly without emergency 911 access.

Vonage, AT&T and others have devised a temporary fix. They forward subscribers’ 911 calls to a dispatch center’s phone number for non-emergency calls.

But many 911 officials say that wreaks havoc because the caller’s address doesn’t display. That wastes precious seconds in an emergency. And if the caller can’t speak, the dispatcher doesn’t know where to send help. Operators don’t even know it’s an emergency call. So the phone could ring for minutes, or callers could be put on hold. As a result, cities and counties in several states, including Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia, won’t accept 911 calls from VoIP services.

  1. Yup, you need to explicitly set up 911 on VoIP. It takes about 48 hours for it to be enabled, at least that’s what it was for Vonage. I imagine Time Warner is the same but they begin the setup in advance of them arriving so as to appear no service delay occurs. This is required on VoIP because in theory you can choose any dialing area code.

    Also, it is necessary to re-setup 911 after you port your existing telco phone number to VoIP. Even if you have already setup 911, something that may be true for those that ordered VoIP service all the while continuing telco phone service as a means to trial VoIP service. An important detail I think many may also overlook.

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  2. I agree that this is a major concern w/VoIP and must be addressed before the service rolls out much further into the consumer space. I have found out that Packet8, a VoIP provider that has been appearing in CompUSA stores, does offer 911 service that is identical to landline service providers. It’s called “enhanced 911″ and is available for an extra charge of $3 or $4/month but only in certain areas. I haven’t jumped for it yet, in part because my local provider (Qwest) has announced residential VoIP is coming soon. I wonder how they’ll deal with this issue.

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  3. Packet8 E911 is only $1.50/mo. Barry is correct. It’s the only VOIP company with a true E911 call. Vonage and others only forward the call to non-emergency number. With Packet8′s E911, your name and address show up incase you can not speak.

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  4. i dont understand why this is such a big deal. I have vonage, they have in several places in the initial literature you get with the equipment that you should set 911 up as soon as you have everything else done – they go OUT OF THEIR WAY top repeatedly remind you to set it and to change it should you move.

    Vonage have done nothing wrong here, yet people act like they were never alerted that this would have to be set up.

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