State to Target Vonage 911 Services


Michigan is the latest state to jump on the “let’s sue Vonage” bandwagon.
Following the lead set by Texas last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike
Cox said Friday he might sue the broadband phone provider for deceptive
advertising practices.


Both Texas and Michigan are alleging that Vonage does not adequately explain
in its television ads that 911 emergency service is not automatic. Vonage
users must go to the company site and register for the service.


“Vonage needs to make sure its customers understand that normal 911 access
may not be available to them,” Cox said in a statement. “Emergency calls
made through Vonage’s service are often routed through call centers that may
not be answered outside of regular business hours.”


Existing 911 service is tied to a physical location, allowing the police or
fire department to see the actual phone number and address when a distress
call is made. But, because Vonage lets its subscribers choose their own area
codes (a user in New York can have a California area code), it’s not
possible to directly link up with a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).


In a Notice of Intended Action (NIA) sent to Vonage Wednesday, Cox told the
company it has failed to make it clear that customers do not have access to
traditional 911 service.


“I dont know about most people, but I dont have the ability to time my
emergencies,” Cox said. “Vonage has 10 days to respond to the NIA, or my
office will file a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties.”


The question of 911 services for VoIP exploded in the news in
March, when a Houston couple was robbed and shot in their home while their
daughter frantically used the upstairs Vonage line to call 911.


Several weeks later, Texas sued the Edison, N.J.-based Vonage for deceptive
advertising. New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told Congress last week he was
drafting regulations that might make 911 services mandatory for VoIP providers.


In addition to Cox’ NIA, the Michigan Public Utilities Commission (PUC)
indicated last week it wants regulatory control over Internet phone
services. The Michigan regulators want the Legislature to amend the state’s
telecommunications law to include Voice over IP services.


The call for VoIP regulation in Michigan comes months after the FCC ruled
Internet telephony is interstate in nature and not subject to state
regulations and taxes.


The courts have already rejected similar regulatory claims by Minnesota, New
York and California. In August 2003, the Minnesota PUC ruled that Vonage’s
DigitalVoice offering was a traditional telephone service for which Vonage
was required to obtain a certificate of authority and meet other rules and
regulations governing telephone service in the state. Vonage won on appeal.

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