Thousands of Texans are replacing their traditional home phones with a virtual number from Vonage. NewsChannel 11 first introduced you to the internet phone service, called voice over IP, on Monday. Since then we've learned about 500 people are currently using it here in Lubbock. And as it grows in popularity, so do the concerns of Lubbock emergency responders.
As we showed you Monday, the 9-1-1 emergency service is not provided with the Vonage online phone system. You have to register for it. So for your benefit, we tested Vonage with a user who has already registered for the service, along with the help of the emergency district.
Technology Trips Over 9-1-1
A Houston family learned at the worst time they had no connection to 911. The reason, they were using a newer technology that allows you to make phone calls over the Internet.
Technology enthusiast, Bill Curnow recently came across another hi-tech piece of equipment; Vonage. It's the latest in phone technology. Through a small box, Curnow can make calls through his broadband internet service. Curnow says it's amazing, considering 20 years ago cordless phones or the internet barely existed.
"I think it is amazing. I am just hesitant. I don't know how far it's going to go," said Curnow. "The first word that was transferred over the internet crashed the system on the other end, so this is a modern miracle."
However, with Vonage, Curnow has to sign up for 9-1-1 before he can use it. It says so on the company's website.
Last week, a family in Houston who wasn't registered tried to dial 9-1-1 with a Vonage phone while being robbed. This is what they heard: "9-1-1 is not available from this telephone line."
Curnow told NewsChannel 11, "You will need to state your address and phone and name when you're calling an emergency in, so it's buried in the terms of service."
Even after you register for 911, dispatchers may not receive all your information. "A lot of families with small children, the kids don't know the address," said Curnow.
NewsChannel 11 teamed up with Lubbock Emergency Communication District Executive Director, Michael Grossie, and Curnow for a test call. "Let's see if this works," said Curnow as he dialed 9-1-1.
The dispatcher answered, "Lubbock Police Department, this is Alicia."
"Alicia, this is Bill Curnow. I'm calling to test 9-1-1."
On the other end, dispatcher Alicia said she could see all his information including his name, phone number and address.
On Monday, Grossie's concern was that dispatchers wouldn't be able to see that information through the Vonage system. Curnow said his research also said dispatchers may not receive such information.
Curnow said, "She knew where I was calling from, and all the information we take for granted on our land line, so that's what surprised me."
Grossie said, "My worry is will the next one work because this is new technology." But Grossie and Curnow can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing this one call worked. "It works here in Lubbock, and so there's no reason for people to not consider this as an option."
Grossie said Vonage calls to 9-1-1 ring through on a seven digit number. He also said many times seven digit numbers are answered in the order in which they come in, rather than order of importance.
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One reason Vonage is more cost effective is customers don't pay many taxes they pay for land line services. But, one of those taxes is a 9-1-1 charge of about 50 cents a month. Grossie says the Federal Communication Commission will have to come up with a way to regulate systems such as Vonage so emergency districts nationwide won't lose that revenue also.
Vonage is mobile, meaning you can connect it on just about any internet service in the country. But, if you register your system at your home address here in Lubbock, then try to call 9-1-1 from Florida, the dispatchers will receive your Lubbock information. That means 9-1-1 dispatchers in Florida won't know where you're located.