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Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) FAQ's

Consumers who are considering buying Internet-based telephone services should be aware that NOT all services provide access to the 9-1-1 network. Sometimes 9-1-1 service is provided, however it is NOT the full service we are used to receiving via regular wire line telephones. When a person calls 9-1-1 from a wire line telephone, 9-1-1 call receivers automatically identify the caller's location and can direct emergency personnel to that location even if the caller is not able to provide an address. If you are considering an Internet-based telephone service for your household, you should ask, the provider whether the offer includes 9-1-1 service. If the advertising, whether in store brochures, media print, online, or oral communications, is silent on this issue, it is likely that 9-1-1 is NOT being provided.

If the provider claims to provide 9-1-1 service, ask whether 9-1-1 calls are routed to the traditional 9-1-1 network. If yes, then the service is just like traditional telephone service. If the provider makes it voluntary or mandatory to sign up for 9-1-1 service, you may be required to go online and enter your name and address so you can be located in an emergency. It will be very important for you to enter the information accurately and keep it up to date. If you are considering a telephone service which does not include traditional 9-1-1 service, you should ask yourself how members of your household, including children, visitors and babysitters, will call for help in an emergency. Don't forget that they will have to know your address and be able to communicate it to emergency personnel.

1. Can I dial 9-1-1 from my VoIP phone?

You can reach emergency assistance by dialing 9-1-1 on most VoIP phones. However, there are important differences between some VoIP 9-1-1 emergency dialing and traditional 9-1-1 service from a standard phone. It is important to familiarize yourself with these differences. Often the 9-1-1 call taker will not have a display of the number you called from or your location. In addition, your call may arrive on a general access line in the call center, not through the 9-1-1 system.

Some service providers automatically provide 9-1-1 dialing service, some offer optional 9-1-1 dialing through registration and some do not support 9-1-1 emergency dialing or other emergency functions. These service providers advise end users to maintain an alternate means of accessing 9-1-1 service.


2. How do I know what level of 9-1-1 Service I have with my VoIP phone?

You need to research the features of your VoIP service as it pertains to emergency dialing by accessing the service provider's web site. Search provider's Web sites for "emergency calling". Once you are aware of the 9-1-1 limitations, you need to notify all potential users of the phone (spouse, children, babysitters, etc.).


3. How is my 9-1-1 call routed to the correct location?

When you sign up for VoIP that has automatic 9-1-1 service or when subscribing to optional dialing 9-1-1 service, you fill out a short form that tells your actual physical address. When you dial 9-1-1, your call is routed from the VoIP network to the general access line in a 9-1-1 call center associated with the service address you provided when you signed up.

In order for 9-1-1 emergency dialing to work properly, the service address on file for you MUST correspond to the physical location of your VoIP phone. This will enable your service provider to accurately identify your emergency Public Safety Answering Point and correctly route your call. You cannot specify a post office box.


4. What if my 9-1-1 call is misrouted to the incorrect 9-1-1 answering point?

If your VoIP 9-1-1 call is not routed to the correct 9-1-1 answering point, you should tell the call taker the city, county and state where you need help. The call taker can attempt to transfer your emergency call to the correct answering point. It is a good idea to know what police, fire or sheriff's department is responsible for your 9-1-1 calls and have their 10-digit phone number on hand to provide the call taker.


5. Does 9-1-1 know where I am when calling from my VoIP phone?

It depends on your service provider. The first information you will need to provide or verify for the 9-1-1 call taker is your location, name, and telephone number, especially if the emergency service personnel does not have this information available automatically. When this occurs, your call goes to a general access line at the answering point, which is different from how traditional 9-1-1 calls are routed to an emergency call center.


6. Can I call 9-1-1 from my VoIP phone when I'm traveling?

If you have emergency dialing activated and have mobile VoIP service with your provider, service is portable to any location with broadband Internet access. You may call 9-1-1 no matter where you physically reside. However, when you are not at the physical location that you entered in your customer profile, the call will not route to the proper 9-1-1 call center. Dialing 9-1-1 will automatically route your call to the local emergency personnel location for the address on file, not your temporary location. If you relocate your VoIP phone on a temporary basis, such as taking it with you when you go on a trip, don't use it to get emergency help. Use another telephone to dial 9-1-1.


7. What if my 9-1-1 call is disconnected?

Unlike traditional 9-1-1 service, the 9-1-1 call taker will usually not be able to call you back if you are disconnected. They often will not have access to your phone number. If you are disconnected, hang up and dial 9-1-1 again.


8. Do service outages affect my ability to call 9-1-1?

It may. Just as your regular cordless phone will not work without power, your VoIP phone may not work without power either. As a result, you may be unable to make any calls, including those to 9-1-1 during an electrical power outage.

Similarly, you may not be able to make 9-1-1 calls from your VoIP phone if your broadband service provider has a service outage or if any other service disruptions keep you from being able to make any outbound call.


9. Do I need to notify someone if I move?

Yes. When you move, you must update your new location on your service provider's Web site. It may take several days to update your record.


10. Should I keep my traditional phone line after I subscribe to VoIP service?

Yes. 9-1-1 industry leaders recommend that you keep your traditional phone line in addition to your VoIP phone service in order to successfully access 9-1-1 services and to have telephone access during a power outage.


11. Do I need to tell anyone in my family that I have changed our phone service?

Yes. It is very important that all persons that live in your home understand the differences in emergency calling with your new VoIP service. Children and babysitters always need to be educated on how to call 9-1-1 in an emergency. You might want to post your phone number and address by the phone for easy access.


12. Will my home / business security monitoring service work with my VoIP service?

It might, but it might not. Check with your VoIP service provider to see if they support analog modem traffic such as burglar alarms, fax machines, Tivo Digital Video Recorders, etc.


13. Can I make a 9-1-1 test call from my VoIP phone?

It depends. Before doing so, please contact Multi Agency Communications Center non emergency line 509-762-1160, and ask if you can place a test 9-1-1 call. If they are busy, you may be asked to place your test call at a certain time.

Tips for VoIP customers, before you need 9-1-1:

  • Verify that you can access 9-1-1 with your phone. Check your service provider's Web site for emergency calling features.
  • Be sure to activate the emergency calling feature of your service plan, if applicable.
  • If the power is out, your VoIP service may be out too. Consider purchasing a back up power supply.
  • If you travel with your VoIP adapter, it may not work for making 9-1-1 calls. Call from another phone.
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service.
  • Post your address and call back phone number near your phone.
  • Know the 9-1-1 center that should receive your call and their general access phone number.
  • Consider keeping a land line phone for accessing 9-1-1 emergency services.
  • Burglar alarms, fax machines, satellite TV and Tivo Digital Video Recorders often rely on analog modems. Check with your VoIP provider to determine if their service supports analog modems.



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