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Before you choose a VOIP phone service, find out if they offer E911 phone service -- or any type of 911 phone service -- across their entire network. Since 2005, the FCC has required Internet phone companies to offer E (enhanced) 911 phone service, but many providers are still slow to deliver it completely. This can, of course, become a problem if you need to use a 911 phone service from your VOIP phone service, and it doesn't work or has a slow response.
If you're a Vonage subscriber and you want to know if you've been connected to 911 service, don't dial 911. That will put through an actual 911 call, if the connection has been enabled. Instead dial 933. You will then receive a message telling you if your 911 service is live.
One big reason why free VOIP services shouldn't be used as primary phones: 911 won't work. While commercial VOIP providers are required to provide 911 service and obtain an accurate physical address to give to 911 providers, free providers are not under the same requirements. So if you're considering free VOIP, make sure you have another service with a 911 connection.
911 and VOIP haven't always worked well together. VOIP is a virtual service, unlike standard phone lines. So the traditional 911 system, which ID's the location from where the emergency call is being dialed, doesn't automatically work with VOIP. That's why the FCC is now requiring VOIP providers to include 911 service with all plans. So when your VOIP provider asks you for the accurate physical address of your connection, make sure to give to them. The provider will use this address for 911 responses.
If you want to know what your VOIP provider is doing about VOIP 911 service, check the web site http://www.voip911.gov. This site, maintained by the FCC, has a list of VOIP providers nationwide that have reported their progress implementing 911. If your provider has done anything about providing VOIP 911 service, you will find its report here.
If you're looking for a provider that offers solid VOIP 911 coverage, Vonage has the lead. According to PC World magazine, Vonage has been able to set up 85 percent of its customers in the US with working 911 service. Most of that remaining 15 percent is in areas served by AT&T as the regional phone provider and Vonage is currently negotiating with AT&T to provide 911 connectivity to those specific areas.