Internet Voice or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows you to make telephone calls using the Internet. VoIP converts a voice signal from your telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet, then converts it back at the other end so you can speak to anyone with a regular telephone. While VoIP might offer some savings when it comes to telephone service, consumers must be aware of potential problems regarding VoIP and how it interfaces with the 9-1-1 system and with alarm services.
There have been incidents across the United States where people in need of emergency services were unable to reach their public safety communications centers while trying to dial 9-1-1 via VoIP. These cases highlight certain shortcomings of Internet telephone technology. All of these possibilities could be disastrous in the event of an emergency; and you the user or potential user of VoIP should consider the following recommendations:
Before you sign up for a VoIP Service:
- Make sure you are very clear on the capabilities of any VoIP systems and their abilities to connect with the 9-1-1 and alarm systems.
- Consider installing an uninterruptible power supply to your VoIP device.
On May 20, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that companies that deliver telephone service over the Internet must provide their customers with 9-1-1 emergency service. The ruling also requires the traditional Bell Telephone companies to cooperate by opening the 9-1-1 networks to Internet-based telephone systems. However this does not solve the problem -- which the FCC did not address -- of forcing Internet companies to track when customers move a phone from one location to another.
The Prince William County Police Department's Crime Prevention Unit recommends that you be informed and aware of this new technology by asking the right questions of your service provider. For additional information on this topic refer to the Federal Communications Commission web site at http://www.fcc.gov/voip/.