Consumer VOIP Could Be on Its Way to the Gallows

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2005-03-23 Print this article Print

Opinion: FCC actions that are allegedly designed to protect VOIP may actually do it in.

When the Texas Attorney General announced Wednesday that the state was suing Vonage for failure to provide 911 service to a couple who were shot during a robbery, shock waves went through the industry. There are lots of reasons why the lack of service shouldnt have happened.
More important, there are lots of places to spread the blame.
Perhaps the only innocent parties in all of this are the two people who got shot, and even thats not completely clear. First of all, Vonage didnt include 911 service in its basic package, and if the Texas Attorney General is correct, didnt do a very good job of disclosing that it wasnt there. The company claims that it needed to have its customers register for emergency calls before they could be put through. The company also said that its impossible to know where an IP phone is located, and in that, theyre correct. But if you think a little harder about this, you realize one additional fact—Vonage ships out the VOIP interface so that you can install it. Surely the company knows where it sent the product. Wouldnt it be reasonable to use that as the location for the phone unless told otherwise? The other service providers and the consultants who have gone on record today saying that theyre shocked, SHOCKED, to see Texas doing this ought to admit that theyre being disingenuous. Didnt it ever occur to them that at some point, some poor soul would try to call 911, be unable to do it, and be killed or maimed as a result? What did they think would happen? That people, even outsiders who had an emergency, would stop and read the disclaimers before dialing? Of course, all of this rests at the feet of the Federal Communications Commission, which, in a fit of insanity, decided that state laws requiring access to 911 were somehow likely to discourage consumer access to VOIP. Next Page: FCCs intentions.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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