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Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

Vonage Holdings Corp. says it intends to quickly settle its legal tangle with the State of Texas and its Attorney General, Greg Abbott.

Or maybe it will fight back.

"Yes, we are going to try to settle it," says Brooke Schulz, Vonage's VP of corporate relations. "We are going to sit down with them and try to reach an agreement that is favorable for everybody. Whether we settle or defend, they are both ways of settling."

Background: The Texas Attorney General announced this week that it is suing Vonage, claiming that the VOIP provider is misrepresenting its service as a real phone service -- allegedly Vonage implies that dialing 911 from one of its lines would yield the same results as would using a phone connected to the PSTN.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in Houston when a teenage girl had to run to a neighbor's house to call 911 while her parents were assaulted and shot during a robbery. The family were Vonage customers, but their phone was useless as they didn't properly activate Vonage's 911 service.

But it's not as if they weren't warned, Vonage says.

“There are a lot of disclosures we make to our customers about E911," Schulz says. "During the subscription process there are several reminders that our 911 service is different and that there is a need for the customer to activate it.”

Schulz says that the extra steps required to turn on Vonage's version of enhanced 911 (E911) is available “within two clicks” of entering the company's Web site. New Vonage customers encounter reminders about the E911 service at the beginning and at the end of the online subscription process, Schulz says.

“At the front page of [a customer's] Web account there is a big red sign that tells you it’s not automatic,” she says.

So what's the difference between real 911 and VOIP 911? Location, location, location.

Most VOIP 911 calls are routed through public safety access points (PSAPs) -- facilities where an operator can alert emergency response agencies. But it's noteworthy that these PSAPs often don't have Data Management System/Automatic Location Identification (DMS/ALI) systems, which allow operators to immediately identify the caller's location (see VOIP 911 Still Trails Wireline).

The Texas AG's lawsuit alleges that Vonage is deceiving consumers by not revealing in its television commercials and on sales calls that customers must take extra steps to turn on its 911 service. "Even after signing up, there are limitations to the service that Vonage customers may never know about unless they read the fine print buried on the company’s Web site," the AG's press release contends.

The suit invokes the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and asks the courts to take measures to stop Vonage from allegedly misrepresenting its 911 capabilities. It seeks damages of $20,000 per violation, but there's no mention of how many alleged violations have occurred.

For its part, Vonage says it will work to put this behind it, which may lead to a settlement. "We are looking forward to working with the Texas Attorney General to resolve this issue," Schulz says. "We still have not talked to them directly."

"They sent us a letter last week asking us for a few different things like a list of our resellers in Texas, and how many customers we have in Texas, but we had no idea they were going to file suit against us -- it came as a complete surprise.

"We didn’t even get a courtesy call.”

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, and Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:22:04 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Vonage should simply not allow phone service to start until the E911 service is registered. Then this wouldn't have happened in Texas.

They can even require a new registration if the IP address changes drastically (which implies that it was moved and not just a dynamic IP assignment).

For something as critical as 911, you have to protect your customers from being lazy or uninformed.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:22:03 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Except forcing customers to configure E911 via the web would cause a fury of customer service calls. They're already way understaffed in that department. Have you ever actually tried to call vonage for tech support? Good luck.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:56 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Vonage management: too cheap or too stupid?

Prediction: settlement is gonna be a Gold mine for lawyers. Could break the company.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:55 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Wouldn't it be simpler to just make the signup automatic? If a user can press two clicks to enable it, why not have the system do the "clicking" for them automatically? (not really clicking obviously, just in software running the functions) They already know the customers address when they signup, so it must just be they cant handle everyone signing up for it. (it must cost them money or something) So they're just being sleazy.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:55 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Besides cheap or sleazy, are they making a bad name for VoIP?
Have they even addressed security? (LR Webinar)
-Message integrity
-Denial of Service
-Service Teft
-Spam, virus & worms

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:49 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
GÇ£I failed to fulfill my responsibilities - letGÇÖs find somebody to blame it on!GÇ¥ I failed to follow instructions - letGÇÖs see if I can get somebody to pay me for that.
The first and biggest warning you see on every VOIP provider website is about somewhat or fully restricted abilities to call 911. Is really being stupid enough to get 20000 dollars richer?
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:48 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Why get hung up on E911??? I use Packet8 and I DON'T pay for their E911 add-on. I can dial the 10 digit direct number just like we did before 911!! Except it was only 7 digits back in the old days...

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:42 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
People, it does not take a lot of common sense to know that anything pretending to be a phone should be a 1:1 replacement for a regular phone.

Form, fit (whatever that means these days) and function...and no weasle ass fine print. That's just common business sense.

Vonage geek idiot engineers of the world: Kids in the US are taught about 911 in pre-school (age 3) for goodness sake! They can make 911 calls before they can use the toilet.

Based on that, it does not take a genius to imagine that some day, someone (like a kid) is gonna' make the very reasonable assumption, without reading the (weasle ass) fine print, that they can call 911 from the phone mom and dad use.

You telling me that you gotta tell your kid make a ten digit call? Or go run next door and make the call there?

I could go on about 911. Like how it is a free call, even from coin operated phones. Like even if your old cell phone does not have GPS, the 911 operator gets information on your rough location. That says a lot to someone who is at least awake.

I hope they get their royal pants sued off for their jackass stupidity. This company makes all US businesses look like droolers.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:21:13 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Talk about common sense.....
Common sense means open your eyes and read! The print isn't even fine although it does contain polysylabic words.... like weasle ass?

VOIP transits the cloud. An IP address is not a physical address. The TDM world and the VOIP world do not seamlessly intertwine themselves magically.I wonder "WHY"? Perhaps it is because, unlike a traditional landline phone, you can move your IP/VOIP phone to wherever you go with your laptop. What a great idea! No missed calls! But where do you want Emergency Serivces to show up when there is a problem? Not at Starbucks!

With new technology come change. Folks in the city make 10 digit calls everyday. That was change. "WHY" would anyone with any common sense not take the full 2 minutes it takes to associate their VOIP, IP addressed phone with a physical address? It doesn't take a genius! If you have a broad band connection, common sense would suggest that you are smarter than the average bear. Perhaps not.

The only stupid people here are the ones who aren't able top read or take responsibility for their own decisions.

"Excuse me sir, let me wipe that for you too."

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:20:52 AM
re: Texas: Vonage 911 Is a Joke
Speed dialing makes those 10-digit calls a whole lot easier
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