Safety concerns with Internet phone services - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Safety concerns with Internet phone services


When you need emergency help, you need 911, but what if your phone provider doesn't offer the service?

WTOC investigates the limitations of using voice over internet protocol also known as VoIP, which are phone services provided through the internet.

There are a number of risks people should consider if they choose to use these services instead of mainstream providers.

The FCC is enforcing regulations to ensure providers are offering safety services, but there are still many risks you need to know about.

A lot of people are jumping on board with VoIP service providers because they are so cheap.

According to the FCC, when you call 911 from a traditional phone, the call goes to the nearest public safety answering point. VoIP calls may also not properly connect or they may go to the wrong operator.

Officials also warn that operators may have trouble pinpointing your exact location during an emergency.

VoIP services may not work during a power outage or if your internet becomes overloaded. All of these factors concern first responders because it could delay the response time of emergency personnel.

"The fact that a mechanical device doesn't work that is traditionally easy to use; it's absolutely unnerving for us firefighters. We want to make sure again that folks are educated to make good decisions on whatever it is that they do, take that moment for safety and make sure that they can contact us in the event," said Lt. Lee Levesque.

If you are thinking about getting one of these VoIP services:

1. Make sure you provide them with your physical address.

2. Have a clear understanding of their 911 services offered.

3. Inform family and visitors using your VoIP system about potential 911 limitations.

WTOC has uncovered some providers are potentially violating FCC rules by not offering 911 services.

After researching Vonage, Ooma, Jive Communications and Magic Jack, Magic Jack was the only internet phone service provider that did not include 911 services in all of their plans. This poses a major threat if someone is not able to call for help.

"Certainly not being able to contact 911 is a huge issue," said Lt. Levesque.  

Levesque says internet phone services could potentially do more harm than good. He says firefighters in our area and potentially across the nation are fighting a new battle.

Many people are complaining about the limitations of dialing 911 on their internet phone service.

The FCC requires all internet based phone service providers to automatically offer 911 services to all of their customers. After researching several providers, Magic Jack says they are not required to provide people with access to emergency services. They have a disclosure on their web site.

"So if they can't dial 911, what's the use of having a phone available," said VoIP customer Joel Kepple.

WTOC's Operation Manager recently jumped on board with an internet phone service and said safety was a priority for him.

"You have to do your research or otherwise you could go with a provider that doesn't have the 911 services, and then you could be totally out of luck if you have children or elderly in the house," said Kepple.  

WTOC reached out to Magic Jack about their policy, which doesn't seem to comply with the FCC rules.  Officials said they were not aware of the requirements. WTOC also reached out to the FCC for more guidance and are still waiting to hear back.

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