However, in emergency situations, you'd like to know that the first phone you grab--no matter where you are--allows you to dial 911 without any problems. In the case of a traditional landline phone, in which the phone number is tied to a physical location, you're hooked up to the national 911 network.
When it comes to Voice-over-IP phone services, though, it's a very different (and scary) story. Right now, if you dial 911 using a service such as Primus Telecommunications' Lingo, which doesn't offer E911, you're tapping into a workaround for emergency service: Your call goes to an administrative telephone line at the PSAP in your area, which is more like a switchboard of sorts. With Verizon's VoiceWing plan, for example, which offers limited 911 access, the company clearly states that in some areas of the country, your 911 call may simply not go through. Of the ten VoIP companies I looked at--most of them offering nationwide service--only America Online and 8x8 offer E911 service--meaning that when subscribers dial 911, their phone number and physical address appear on the screen of the operator answering the call. You may already know about some of the tragedies that have unfolded as a result of VoIP's 911 shortcomings. While most of us rejoice about the FCC's action, VoIP players have their work cut out for them. In the past, as far as I can tell, some of the Baby Bells have been reluctant to allow VoIP companies--essentially direct competitors--access to their infrastructures. Whether VoIP providers work with local phone companies or competitors to link to the 911 infrastructures, there is potential for trouble--which isn't good news for consumers. The FCC requires the Baby Bells to grant 911 system access to direct landline competitors--companies such as Global Crossing or Level 3, for example--but does not require the Baby Bells to offer similar access to VoIP providers; nor does it put any limits on what they can charge for such access.
BroadVoice expects to implement 911 in stages across its coverage area, and it hopes to meet or beat the FCC's deadline. Brooke Schulz, senior vice president of communications and government affairs at Vonage, says that the company hopes to have E911 available to the majority of its customers by the end of the year--as long as it has the necessary access to the Baby Bells' 911 systems. Once your VoIP provider offers E911, as with the workaround 911 process, it's not something that happens automatically. If you already have a VoIP service and are anxious about the lack of proper 911 service, the October-November deadline for compliance with the FCC's new regulations may certainly feel like a long way off.
Find the phone numbers for your local police department, fire department, and hospital emergency room, and program them into your VoIP phone (if feasible) and your cell phone.
E911 for VoIP services is all very well, but remember that if you're in the middle of a power outage or your broadband connection goes on the blink, you can't dial 911 or any other phone number. Amazon Shop buttons are programmatically attached to all reviews, regardless of products' final review scores.
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When you dial 911, your call is automatically routed to emergency response personnel at your local PSAP (Public Service Answering Point or Public Safety Answering Point). For one thing, your VoIP phone number does not have to correlate with the area where you live. The operator or receptionist who picks up your call may or may not be a trained emergency agent; this operator cannot see your street address, and may not even see your number, so you have to relay this information verbally--wasting precious, precious time. Federal Communications Commission's recent approval of regulations that require all VoIP providers to offer E911 service by the end of the year.
In these terrible life-or-death situations, people were unable to dial 911 from their home phones. Sure, the new requirements will help prevent future tragedies, but it's a shame that families had to suffer because of VoIP's known failings before something was done.
Because VoIP calls are not routed through the conventional phone system, service providers need to find a way to connect calls to the national 911 network, which is controlled by the local telephone companies around the country, including BellSouth, Qwest, SBC, and Verizon.
So essentially, the FCC is making demands on the VoIP companies to get their E911 act together, but isn't giving them any assistance. Only a handful of companies I contacted had details on their E911 rollout plans; most of them indicated that they would not charge for the service. The company says that it plans to provide E911 service to customers in its territories within 30 days of the FCC's original ruling--it isn't waiting for the actual publication date.
You will still need to activate the service by registering your street address with your VoIP provider. Our parent company, IDG, receives advertisement revenue for shopping activity generated by the links. In most areas of the country (exceptions include remote parts of Alaska), the dispatcher who picks up your call also sees your phone number and street address pop up on screen.
As long as the area code is available, Jane Doe in San Francisco, for instance, can sign up for a Miami Beach-based area code. Once the new rules are published in the Federal Register, which should happen by mid-July, VoIP providers will have 120 days to deliver the goods, so VoIP customers should have E911 available by October or November.
Other VoIP companies will choose to work with the local phone companies, competing communications carriers like Level 3 Communications, or third-party systems such as Intrado.
Of course, such testing will be critical before E911 is rolled out--one huge thing that VoIP providers will face as they brace themselves for the FCC's deadline. Consequently, complying with the FCC's ruling is likely to be a huge financial undertaking for any VoIP company, and it's possible that some of the smaller providers will disappear--or services that are in development now may not see the light of day. 8x8 said that it will probably continue to charge its Packet8 subscribers, but the company did not have specifics at this point.


And BroadVoice reports that it will have to charge customers for E911, when the time comes. In addition to E911 availability in Rhode Island, Vonage plans to roll out the service in New York City in July. The company also says that it no longer sells any VoIP numbers that cannot be mapped to a physical address.
If you move or if you take your VoIP hardware with you to a temporary location, you need to go to the company's site and update your street address.
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These so-called nomadic or out-of-region phone numbers can wreak havoc with the 911 system; the last thing you'd want is for your emergency call in California to get routed to the east coast.
After normal business hours, the situation can be even more troubling: Depending on where you live, your 911 call may end up at the switchboard or an answering machine at your local sheriff's office. Vonage, meanwhile, has rolled out a free trial version of E911 service for customers in Rhode Island. And in the case of an emergency involving an infant girl in Deltona, Florida, it was too late.
For example, Level 3 provides the behind-the-scenes infrastructure for 8x8 and AOL that enables the two companies to offer E911 capability (among other services) to their customers.
And SunRocket got a head start on planning for E911 by working with competitors of the Baby Bells, including Global Crossing, for instance, to obtain access to local 911 infrastructures.
Muleta knows firsthand about these things: During his tenure at the FCC, Muleta was responsible for ensuring that wireless carriers offer 911 services. In addition, SunRocket will stop offering nomadic numbers, reports spokesperson Brian Lustig.
Later this month, Vonage plans to offer new customers the chance to turn on 911 service while they're signing up for a calling plan.
Currently, 911 activation is a separate thing; you have to turn it on after you've signed up for service.




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