By Chloe Albanesius
SBC Communications Wednesday unveiled an enhanced 911 service for Internet telephony customers -- an offering that voice-over-Internet protocol provider Vonage immediately characterized as half-baked.
Vonage requires its customers to request activation of its 911 service; in some cases, it directs those customers with activated 911 service who call for help to unmanned emergency facilities. This policy has created controversy in several states due to recent episodes in which customers in distress were either met with a recorded message saying their phone did not provide 911 services or were directed to the voice mail of local police administrative offices.
SBC's service would provide VoIP providers such as Vonage with access to its E911 database, allowing VoIP customers to reach a live operator when dialing 911. But Vonage contended that SBC's offering would be useless for the 40 percent of its customers who travel with their VoIP service.
"SBC offered a fixed solution, which would only work for local phone numbers," said Brooke Schulz, vice president of communications at Vonage. "The problem is that the 911 network in this country ... only knows and understands local phone numbers." If a Vonage customer with a Washington, D.C. 202 area-code number traveled to New York, plugged into the network and called 911, the 911 system would cancel out the call because it is coming from a 202 number, Schulz said.
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