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King County E-911

Not all Internet phone services can call 9-1-1. One company’s recording even instructs you to go to a neighbor’s house to call 9-1-1.

King County has issued the following alert for all VoIP subscribers:

Imagine that a loved one in your home suddenly drops to the floor, unconscious and not breathing. You pick up the phone and call 9-1-1, but instead of reaching emergency help, you hear a recording: “Stop. You must dial 9-1-1 from another telephone. 9-1-1 is not available from this telephone line. No emergency personnel will be dispatched.”

That scenario has happened to subscribers of the emerging technology of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service, provided by Internet phone companies. Because of the reduced cost, this new phone service is very attractive, and is being marketed by many different companies.

Examples of Internet phone service you may have seen advertised are Vonage, AT&T CallVantage, and Verizon VoiceWing.

Not all Internet phone services can call 9-1-1. One company’s recording even instructs you to go to a neighbor’s house to call 9-1-1. If the Internet phone has been programmed to call 9-1-1, your 9-1-1 call may not route to the correct 9-1-1 center, or may be answered on a lower priority line than 9-1-1 calls. Your emergency call could wait to be answered until all 9-1-1 calls have been handled. Your name, address, and call-back telephone number may not be provided to the 9-1-1 center.

Some Internet phone companies do provide full Enhanced 9-1-1 service, in which your call will be routed as a priority 9-1-1 call and will display your information, but not all Internet phones have these 9-1-1 capabilities. It is important to read the fine print, so you understand the 9-1-1 capabilities of the service before you decide to buy it.

If you are considering Internet phone service, it is your responsibility to contact your Internet phone company to ask how 9-1-1 works from their phones. You need to ask these questions:

— Will 9-1-1 work from this phone?

— Will my name, address, and call-back telephone number be provided to the 9-1-1 center?

— Will my 9-1-1 call be sent to the 9-1-1 center on the 9-1-1 network, at the same priority as other 9-1-1 calls?

Remember that Internet phones look the same as other regular telephones. In fact, the company will send you an Internet phone unit, and you will plug your same telephone into the unit. Even if you understand that 9-1-1 may not work from your Internet phone, anyone else in your home, such as babysitters or friends, will think that 9-1-1 works. They will pick up your phone to call 9-1-1 if you or someone else needs help in an emergency.

If you chose to purchase Internet phone service from a company that does not provide full Enhanced 9-1-1 service, it is your responsibility to inform anyone who comes to your home that 9-1-1 works differently from your phone. You do not want to wait until the life of someone you love needs to depend on that phone to call for help.

Internet phone companies and the 9-1-1 industry are working hard to ensure that all Internet phones have access to full 9-1-1 service, but it will take some time before that service is available for all Internet phones.

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