For immediate release - Feb. 25, 2005
TAVARES — Emergency communication officials across the nation are cautioning citizens about a new technology that offers a low-cost alternative to local and long-distance phone services, but can be frighteningly inadequate for 911 service.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a phone service that instead of typical telephone lines uses data lines commonly utilized by Internet providers and cable companies. Lake County Department of Public Safety officials are urging residents who are considering purchasing a VoIP service to ask the provider how or if it handles 911 emergency calls and if there are separate charges for the service. While officials are not discouraging people from using VoIP, it is imperative they understand the system may have 911 call limitations, or worse yet, no 911 service at all.
“Yes, you can buy this service, but if they tell you that you are going to get the same level of 911 service that you have come to expect with your land line or your wireless phone, there is a good chance you are not,” said Bruce Thorburn, Lake County Communications Systems Director for the Department of Public Safety.
A case in Texas last year found a child trying to call 911 for her parents who were shot during a home invasion. Instead of an emergency operator, the child reached a recording stating the 911 service was not available from her home’s VoIP telephone. Fortunately, the child was able to contact a neighbor for help, but the harrowing event triggered a consumer alert from the state attorney general’s office about VoIP service.
“It is a nationwide issue,” Thorburn said. “There are numerous reasons why this service at this stage of development may not be particularly good for emergency services.
“Because of the nature of VoIP technology, there is no guarantee that the call is going to route to the proper agency or even the proper county for that matter. The technology is not comparable to that of regular land lines and even cell phones. These have the technological capabilities for location identification.”
According to Thorburn, another disadvantage of the VoIP service may hit home for Florida residents who were without power for long stretches last year during the series of hurricanes. The special VoIP phones often require their own power source so many VoIP users lose phone service during power outages.
Office: (352) 343-9609; Cell: (352) 455-0445