Hack 6. Got 911?
For a multitude of technical and political reasons, Internet TSPs have been slow to make reliable Emergency 911 dispatch dialing available for their customers. Here's how to know if you've got it.
If you recently signed up for VoIP telephone service, the likelihood of you having 911 service is low, but some TSPs do offer it. The fastest way to find out if your TSP offers it is to contact them and ask. Vonage, for instance, supports 911 call routing to most public safety jurisdictions, but you've got to activate this "feature" first. Here's a snippet from Vonage's end-user agreement:
This is a heavy-handed contract item, but what it means is that you have to use Vonage's prescribed, email-based activation routine to use its 911 call routing. Of course, I'm not a lawyer, and I can't provide an attorney's interpretation of this agreement, so contact Vonage if you're unsure about it. Other providers might handle 911 call routing similarly, so make sure you ask before you sign up if 911 is a highly important feature.
The best way to deal with this intimidating contract is to know firsthand whether your TSP has you set up for 911 calling, or be ready for an emergency in case it doesn't. That's what you're about to do.
1.8.1. The Problems with VoIP Emergency Dialing
With a traditional phone line, the power for the line and phone comes from a central power source at the phone company's exchange switch. This means that even during isolated power outages, you can still make and receive callsincluding 911 calls. With VoIP, your electric company and in-house electrical circuits provide the power. If a circuit blows or the electrical supply fails, you won't be able to make any calls.
This would also be the case if your Internet connectivity failed or experienced a VoIP-prohibitive traffic jam. You wouldn't be able to make calls, or you might not be able to hear or be heard. Neither would be acceptable in an emergency calling situation, yet broadband VoIP TSPs can't prescribe a solution to this problem. This is because the TSP doesn't control the traffic between your VoIP device, your ISP, and the rest of the Net that provides the data transport between your VoIP device and the TSP. Unfortunately, there aren't many solutions to these issues.
1.8.2. Hack a Compromise Solution
In the event of an emergency, you're going to want to know you can pick up the phone and reach help quickly. You can do a few things to ensure this.
188.8.131.52. Keep a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) line for 911 calls.
By keeping a traditional phone line hooked up, you ensure that you can reach 911 using "the old phone," and you provide a line that your VoIP ATA might be able to use for 911 dialing. Many VoIP ATAs and VoIP-integrated broadband routers, such as the Zoom X5V and V3 routers, allow you to connect a standard POTS line that 911 calls can be routed to in case of an emergency. Check with your VoIP TSP to see if it supports this kind of connection.
184.108.40.206. Program your VoIP device with speed dial to mimic 911.
If you absolutely can't keep a POTS line around (or you prefer not to bear the expense of one merely for 911 dialing), you might be able to get your VoIP equipment to somewhat mimic the real thing:
220.127.116.11. Use a cell phone for 911.
Like a POTS line, a cell phone can often be used effectively to reach the 911 dispatcher, but check with your cell phone carrier to make sure 911 service is available and reliable in your service area. Just because wireless 911 service has been mandated by the Federal Communications Commission doesn't mean it works everywhere, so check with your carrier to be sure.
18.104.22.168. Use a good old-fashioned permanent marker.
If all else fails, using a felt-tip permanent marker, write the full 10-digit phone number of the local public safety dispatcher on every phone in your house that uses your VoIP service. Don't write it on tape or sticky labels adhered to the phone, because they will eventually peel off, and you never know when you'll need that important phone number.