Net phone firm: San Francisco users have new 911 protection
By Emmett Berg, Bay City News Service
August 8, 2006
A leading provider of Internet-based telephone service announced
today that its customers in San Francisco are now equipped with
a 911 service allowing authorities to trace emergency calls.
The rollout of "Enhanced 911" by Vonage means that
subscribers who dial 911 will have their VoIP, or Voice over Internet
Protocol, telephone numbers linked to a physical address.
Emergency agencies and advocacy organizations have been sounding
alarms about disconnects between VoIP telephones, which are growing
in popularity, and 911 systems. In some cases, emergency personnel
cannot trace a VoIP call if the caller garbles information or
hangs up too soon. Calls made from ground lines or cell phones
are comparatively easy to track.
The problem became more than theoretical in Contra Costa County
on July 10, when
a Bay Point man died after dialing 911 from a VoIP phone,
and not communicating his location before hanging up.
After the man, 56, hung up prematurely, stymied rescuers first
approached the company they thought was the VoIP provider for
the caller, Broadwing Communications.
According to Lee, however, that firm directed officials to Vonage.
More than 30 minutes elapsed before officials could connect the
call with a physical address. The coroner later determined a heart
attack to be the cause of the man's death.
An official from Vonage was not immediately available today for
comment on the case.
Debate over the 911 tracing capacity of VoIP phone service has
largely been confined to tech circles, but in June 2005 the Federal
Communications Commission issued an order to Internet phone carriers
calling on them to provide full 911 emergency calling services.
Since then, a bill nearing a floor vote in the U.S. Senate would
create law codifying the inclusion of VoIP companies as among
the telecommunications providers that must assess Universal Service
Fees to customers. Those fees help pay for 911 services.
Senators have been battling over part of the bill spelling out
waivers for VoIP companies in coming up to speed on 911 technology.
A similar waiver was granted to cellular companies as they were
developing technology for 911 systems.
But advocates for rescuers, in an August 3 letter to Majority
Leader Sen. Bill Frist, R Tenn., declared their opposition to
"There is currently no more important issue among our respective
organizations than deploying e-911 as quickly as possible for
every consumer using VoIP services," stated the letter signed
by Bill Munn, president of the National Emergency Number Association,
and Steve Marzolf, president of the National Association of State
Home telephone use of VoIP telephone systems is rising, according
to a report last month from San Francisco-based Telephia, a communications
research firm. VoIP firms added 700,000 customers in the second
quarter alone, for an estimated national total of 2.9 million.
In today's announcement, Vonage officials said that 83 percent
of customers nationwide were covered by Enhanced 911.
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