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AG Cooper reaches agreement with Vonage over 911 Service

Release date: 12/14/2006

New Vonage customers will automatically get 9-1-1 service

Raleigh: Vonage, the nation’s largest Voice over Internet Protocol provider, has agreed to make sure that new customers can make 9-1-1 calls and to better inform consumers about the limitations of its 9-1-1 service, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.

“In an emergency every second counts,” Cooper said. “It’s critical that consumers be able to pick up the phone and get help when they need it.”

Under a settlement announced today by Cooper, Vonage will automatically enroll all new North Carolina subscribers in 9-1-1 service. This agreement settles claims that Vonage failed to clearly disclose that customers couldn’t automatically dial 9-1-1 to reach emergency personnel, but rather had to go through a separate process to activate 9-1-1. Instead of reaching police, EMS or other emergency responders, Vonage customers who had not activated the service and dialed 9-1-1 heard a recorded message informing them that their 9-1-1 service had not been activated.

Cooper also alleges Vonage failed to tell consumers about the limitations of Vonage’s 9-1-1 service as compared to 9-1-1 service offered by traditional landline companies. At the time of the investigation, Vonage’s 9-1-1 service did not transmit the caller’s telephone number and location to the emergency dispatcher. In some cases, 9-1-1 calls made using Vonage’s Internet-based telephone service were routed to administrative lines, which were answered only during regular business hours or by automated systems. Despite these limitations, some of Vonage’s promotions touted its “911 dialing” and advertised its service as a “replacement” for landline service.

Under the terms of the settlement, consumers who sign up for Vonage service online will see a disclosure of the full 9-1-1 limitations and will have to check a box indicating that they understand and accept the differences between Vonage and landline access to 9-1-1 services. Existing customers will get an email that explains the limitations of the 9-1-1 service and how to activate it. Vonage has also agreed to pay the states a total of $500,000.

Today’s settlement requires the company to get a physical address from consumers who subscribe to Vonage’s Internet-based telephone service and transmit callers’ addresses to emergency response personnel. Vonage must also tell consumers that they should update their address each time they move and that there may be a delay in getting updated information to emergency responders. Vonage must also disclose that consumers who use its service will not have access to 9-1-1 during a power outage or if the consumer’s broadband connection is lost.

“Consumers need to know about problems that could slow down emergency response time,” Cooper said. “My office will keep working to get companies to give consumers the information they need to make smart decisions.”