Vonage Lights Match, Burns Down Man's Home

Okay, the title above is a little tongue in cheek. But it seems people are continuing to blame the limited functionality of VoIP 911 for tragedies, while the fault may lie elsewhere. In Minnesota, homeowner and Vonage subscriber Loren Velthamp called “Vonage 911” and was put on hold while his house burnt to the ground. The insinuation is that Vonage put him on hold while there was an emergency at hand. However, Vonage does not answer 911 calls so they don’t put people on hold. Instead, they automatically forward 911 calls to the appropriate PSAP emergency call center, based on the address information the subscriber provides at registration. Assuming Mr. Velthamp took the few minutes to register his emergency information with Vonage, his problem is the result of 911-dialing limitations that are very clearly documented and disclosed by Vonage during registration. Thus, it would seem the PSAP or local sherriff’s office (or similar) in Mr. Velthamp’s region probably put him on hold, since the call did not enter their office through the e911 channel but instead arrived at the daily business switchboard. To blame Vonage for this hold time is disingenuous. So why does Vonage not route calls through the right channels? Because until recent FCC pressure, the telcos that control 911 trunks were reluctant to allow every “fly by night” VoIP operator access to the 911 system. So what should the FCC be doing: punishing VoIP carriers, or punishing anyone that is hampering the VoIP carrers from connecting directly to the PSAPs? I suppose a measured dose of each.

We all make choices, Mr. Velthamp included. Because of the 911 and other VoIP reliabiity limitations, I keep one SBC line and 3 Vonage lines. Babysitters and guests are clearly instructed on which phone to use when dialing 911.

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