Does Rhode Island have the answer to a major problem facing the Internet phone industry?
Vonage, an Internet phone service provider, and emergency telecom specialist Intrado say together they've conducted successful trials of an advanced means of making emergency phone calls using the Internet.
Details of the work in Rhode Island, and the two companies' future plans for it, will be unveiled Thursday in Washington, D.C., where Vonage will also discuss its participation in a major industry-led forum to improve the nation's 911 system.
While they have been hailed for costing up to 30 percent less than traditional dialing plans, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services often do not include the ability to dial 911. The reason, mainly, is that VoIP calls are routed over the Internet, while most emergency calling centers are only capable of receiving calls using older circuit-switched telephone technology.
Most second- and third-tier providers have problems routing calls to the appropriate emergency call centers and suggest that customers keep a cell phone on hand just for such a purpose. While the industry's elite have licked the routing problems, it's questionable whether an emergency operator knows the caller's location with any real certainty, which is a life-saving demand federal regulators put on traditional landline and cell phone service providers.
With the Federal Communications Commission expected to soon extend its enhanced-911 requirements to Net phone providers, carriers are scrambling for a solution. Representatives from Vonage and Intrado did not say whether any such developments will be announced Thursday.
"True mobile 911 is something that's a work in progress," said Steve Seitz, government affairs director of the National Emergency Number Association, a nonprofit group representing thousands of call center employees. NENA did not participate in the Vonage-Intrado trials.