No 911 Access with VoIP

By Deane Barker on March 1, 2005

Net-based 911 fight puts lives on line: This is a pretty scary consequence of VoIP services. Yes, geeks now about it in advance, but — as this story demonstrates — the average user doesn’t. We talked about this last year, but this story really pounds the point home.

Seventeen-year-old Joyce John frantically grasped the portable phone and dialed 911. Downstairs, her parents struggled with two armed robbers.

“Joyce, Joyce, call the police!” her mother, Sosamma, screamed. But when she did, she heard this message: “Stop. You must dial 911 from another telephone.”

Joyce grabbed another phone downstairs but got the same recording. She finally banged on the door of a neighbor, who called an ambulance. By then, her parents had been shot. They survived, but their attackers fled.

[…] Some VoIP providers don’t offer 911 at all. More typically, those such as Vonage and AT&T offer a bare-bones 911 service that doesn’t show operators a caller’s number or address. And it doesn’t ring on the emergency phone lines in the dispatch center. As a result, some 911 centers don’t accept the calls.

911 service is just one of those things you take for granted. If it wasn’t there, you’d find out about it at the worst possible time.



  1. The availbility of 911 on VoIP has been a consideration for a while. Now that the adoption of VoIP is picking up, more attention is being brought to this subject. It is essential that new technologies like VoIP have access to 9-1-1 service. Intrado – a 911 technology company – is at the forefront of evolving the 9-1-1 infrastructure so that it quickly and easily supports VoIP and other emerging technologies.

    Intrado has been doing this for a while — In March of 2003, they launched VoIP Emergency Calling Services, the first carrier-based VoIP 9-1-1 solution, giving VoIP providers a nationwide, accurate, reliable way to process VoIP calls for emergency assistance. As of ’03, customers include Vonage, and AT&T.

    I’d be interested in knowing what other companies are providing similar services.

  2. This story doesn’t really illustrate a problem with VoIP, because calling 911 wouldn’t have made any difference. The parents were irresponsible in failing to provide for their safety and that of their child, but fortunately they lived to (hopefully) learn from their mistakes.

    It’s really no different than if they had been injured in a car accident because they refused to wear seatbelts, and then tried to portray it as a failure of the Onstar system.

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