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.