March 22, 2005 9:42 AM PST

Texas sues Vonage over 911 problem

The attorney general of Texas is suing Internet phone provider Vonage, charging that the company isn't clear to its customers about deficiencies in its 911 service.

Vonage 911 calls aren't routed in the traditional manner. Rather, most end up at the administrative offices of the 6,000 emergency calls centers rather than dispatchers. According to Abbott, the dangers of the circuitous route were exposed in early March when a 17-year-old Houston girl was unable to get through to police after dialing 911 on a Vonage phone after both her parents were shot by intruders.

In the U.S. District Court suit, announced Tuesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott alleges that Vonage doesn't "clearly disclose the lack of traditional 911 access" nor adequately inform its customers they must first sign up for the free 911 service. Such an omission violates state law dealing with deceptive trade practices, the state attorney general alleges. The state is asking for civil penalties of more than $20,000 and an injunction requiring more conspicuous disclosure.

A Vonage spokeswoman said the company was surprised to hear of the litigation and pointed out there are numerous references, both on the Internet and material mailed to customers, explaining the 911 service's limitations and its proactive nature. Abbott's office contacted New Jersey-based Vonage about a week ago asking for marketing materials and other information; the company hadn't heard anything since it replied with the materials two days ago, the spokeswoman said.

The Houston incident was fresh evidence of continuing 911 problems for Net phone providers. Vonage is among the largest sellers of voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, telephone services, which use the unregulated Internet rather than the heavily taxed traditional phone network. That network is dominated by the four local Bell phone giants, which provide 911 services over their circuit-switched and copper-wire-based networks. The majority of U.S. Net phone providers still cannot successfully route a 911 call to the right emergency calling center and also provide emergency operators with the caller's phone number and location.

There has been recent progress, however. The Bells are closer than ever to allowing Net phone operators direct access to their emergency call infrastructure, which would ease a major impediment to offering better 911 VoIP service. Also, several new products offer the promise of lowering the technology hurdles. For instance, Intrado, a major provider of emergency-calling services to traditional telephone operators, has developed a full-fledged 911 service for VoIP operators.

Vonage and other Net phone providers are used to combative utility regulators; VoIP phone call regulations are expected in the next few months from the Federal Communications Commission, while a handful of state public utility commissions are trying, with only moderate success, to regulate the calls as well.

This is the first time a state attorney general has brought an action against Vonage.

11 comments

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Learn to read!
Is it possible these people are too lazy to read the instructions on a product they are buying?

I have looked into Vonage for my own home, and it states clearly on the website about the issue of the 911 problems.

Why do you think Vonage went into business, because the "Bells" already charge too much.
Posted by (2 comments )
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Not only that
Vonage e-mails you within 2 weeks of being transferred about signing up for the 911 service! I don't know how they could make it any more clear besides showing up on your door!
Posted by jeffhughes1 (25 comments )
Link Flag
Are any of the Major Bell's homed in Texas ?
Could this be a matter of someone owing the "bells" a favor and just trying to help them out ?
Posted by Sir Geek (114 comments )
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...
Southwestern Bell is in tx and you're and idiot.
Posted by montgomeryburns (109 comments )
Link Flag
They Can't/Won't Guarantee 911 Service
Vonage and other VoIP providers can't and won't guarantee that their 911 and regular service will continue to function in the event of things like power failure, router failure, ISP failure, denial of service, etc. Take a look at paragraphs 1.4 and paragraph 2 (very lengthy) of the terms of service. They indemnify themselves from any damage resulting in loss of 911 access while using their service.

Bottom line is that VoIP companies are not phone companies, so don't expect the same level of service, because you're not paying for it and it's not required by law. They are classified as information providers. You can't have it both ways -- exemption from Federal and state telco taxes yet regulated reliability.

My prediction: More VoIP subscriber damage lawsuits to follow.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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911 Woes
I do agree that rigid standards be put in place for 911, their seems to be a real mis-understanding about VOIP and 911. Our company has been providing full fledge 911 services for 2 years, and my previous company was providing 100% 911 as far back as 2000.

Providers like Vonage, who use the public internet have not integrated 911, and for their networks it is more difficult. Our underlying provider is already interconnected with the "Public Service Access Points" (PSAP) that allow for 911 to work across a VOIP environment.

My point here is simply understanding that their are about 3 types of VOIP deployments in the market today, and only one of these have challenges for delivering VOIP. Unfortunately the other two will get lumped in with this kind of press, and it sends a very in-accurate message to those seeking to move into the VOIP space.
Posted by jrothell (2 comments )
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ive been censored
well, if you guys have been watching, my posts appeared for about 10 minutes and then were censored by this administrations minions.

its soooo typical of the dictatorship that Boosh represents.
Posted by (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What ?
Has nothing to do with Bush you moron. Its private business.
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Link Flag
Gee
Seems like I have been preaching on this subject on this very forums for three months and being told I didn't know what I was talking about.

As I said, someone will have to die before VOiP providers are required either to provide 911 services or admit to prospective customers that they are giving up 911 when they give up their land line.
Posted by (52 comments )
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