Monday, March 21, 2005

Texas Attorney General Takes Action Against Vonage over 9-1-1

The state of Texas filed a lawsuit against Vonage, the country's largest Internet-based telephone service provider, for failing to make clear to consumers that the company's current service does not include access to traditional emergency 9-1-1 service. The
story was widely reported in newspapers across the country.

In a press statement, Abbott said the dangers posed by Vonage's failure "to clearly disclose the lack of traditional 9-1-1 access" have resulted in tragedy. Last month, a Houston family that subscribed to Vonage's service tried to call 9-1-1 during a home invasion. Two victims were shot multiple times, but the victims' daughter was never able to get through to 9-1-1.

"This Houston family's moment of crisis signals a dire need for Vonage to clearly communicate to its Internet telephone customers that 9-1-1 access may not be available to them," said Attorney General Abbott. "This is not just about bad customer service; it's a matter of life and death."

Abbott posted an audio file of a 9-1-1 call from Vonage on the state's website.

The lawsuit, filed under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, requests injunctive measures to stop Vonage "from misrepresenting the type of emergency telephone service it offers, and the fact that the "911 dialing" feature is not automatically included when a customer signs up for telephone service. The suit seeks $20,000 per violation.

On its website, Vonage says it offers 911 Dialing to all customers. 911 calls are routed from the Vonage network to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for the physical area that the subscriber designates. However, 911 dialing is not automatically set-up for use and subscribers have the option to decline 911 dialing. Email reminders are sent to subscribers about 911 calls. The Vonage website also warns that 911 dialing and Vonage Service do not function during an electrical power or broadband provider outage.

  • Vonage is currently supporting E911 in Rhode Island in partnership with Intrado. With E-911 in Rhode Island, Vonage is able to deliver both caller's location and call back number to 9-1-1 emergency services personnel. Emergency call are routed over Vonage's 9-1-1 server using SIP. The Vonage server then queries Intrado for routing instructions. The call is then directed to the selective router that serves the Rhode Island Public Safety Answering Point ("PSAP"). Simultaneously, Intrado places the customer's address and telephone number into the Automatic Location Information (ALI) server. The supplementary special key unique to the call is included in signaling, and allows the PSAP 9-1-1 operator to pull the customer's address and phone number from the ALI database. Vonage and Intrado are working with other states to provide similar solutions and intend to roll them out market by market.

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