Thursday, April 21, 2005

Don't Bet Your Life on VoIP

There they are, lined up on shelves at Best Buy and CompUSA, beckoning you to dump your old fashioned telephone service and buy one of these new, modern, high technology VoIP adaptors. How can you resist? The unlimited phone call rates are cheaper than you pay now, and you can call others on the same service for free. Don't forget that you'll also be seen as Internet savvy when you use your broadband connection to bypass the telephone system. Besides, there's so much media buzz about how Internet telephony is going to crush those stodgy regulated phone companies that the smart thing is to jump on the VoIP bandwagon now. Right? Don't bet on it. Whatever you do, don't bet your life on it.

Contrary to media buzz, VoIP or broadband phone is no ready replacement for traditional wireline phone service. Wireline is the phone service you grew up with. You plug a phone into a wall jack, pick up the handset and hear a dial-tone. Stodgy as it may seem, a hundred years of government regulation and technical refinement has gone into making wireline or landline telephone service something you can count on. For instance, what happens when you pick up your VoIP connected phone and dial 911? Does an emergency dispatcher send the authorities to your house even if you are in no shape to tell them what your problem is? Don't count on it. You might get help. You might get... nothing!

But, wait. Doesn't the government REQUIRE phone services to provide you with Enhanced 911 or E-911 emergency service? That's the kind where the system knows your location and provides it automatically to the emergency dispatcher. You bet it does if your service comes from a wireline or cellular telephone company. The problem is that VoIP isn't a regulated telephone service. In fact, the VoIP companies have fought tooth and nail to prevent being put into that category. If they were, they'd be subject to the same fees and taxes that apply to other phone companies, and a lot of their cost advantages would evaporate.

VoIP, which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, is classified as an "information" service, not a "telephone" service. Well, that's what they tell the government. What they tell you is that you are getting a telephone service that's just as good as the one that comes from the phone company, only smarter and cheaper. One of the reasons it's cheaper is that you're not getting the same service.

Without regulation, there's no watchdog agency looking out for your interests. YOU have to be sure to buy a VoIP service that offers E-911 service for your location. YOU then have to register your address with the VoIP provider. If not, they have no idea where you are. A Houston couple didn't realize this before an armed robber shot them in their home and their teenage daughter tried to call 911 on their VoIP phone to no avail. The need for emergency service activation wasn't emphasized by the VoIP service. The low prices were.

So if you are going to add a VoIP phone to your home or office, be sure the service comes with E-911 capability and that you get it properly activated and that you update your address if you ever move. If you don't get E-911 capability, keep one line of regular landline phone service with a corded phone or always have a cell phone handy, and make sure everybody knows which phone to use in an emergency.

That's probably a good idea even if you have the VoIP with E-911 service. Why? Because when your DSL or cable Internet connection goes down you have no VoIP phone service at all. Also, if you lose power you have no phone service unless you have your broadband modem, router, telephone and VoIP adaptor on a backup power supply. You should also test your backup power supply regularly to be sure that it will work when you need it to. The simplest regular, corded phones get their power from the phone line, not the power line. More complex phones with cordless extensions or answering machines also need a battery backup, even with regular phone service. Cell phones run on batteries and the cell towers have diesel generators for backup during power failures.

Traditional phone service was set up to be a "lifeline" service. It is highly reliable, provides power and voice connections to the phone, and is automatically set up for enhanced emergency calls. VoIP technology may achieve the same status someday, even without regulation. But today it's "buyer beware." When you buy a VoIP adaptor and service you are buying a new technology that is still being developed and without regulatory oversight. Treat it as such.

If you would like to save money on traditional phone service, view our local and long distance bundled phone service offers and cell phone plans with free cell phones and money back. We also offer competitive long distance carriers that, with your current local phone service provider, may give you the lowest total monthly phone cost.

Yes, we also offer VoIP services that can be excellent second and third phone lines, but we don't recommend it as your only lifeline phone service.

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