Connecticut Sues Vonage Over Emergency 911

Becomes the third state in the last several weeks to take legal action against the VoIP provider.

May 5, 2005

3 Min Read
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The Connecticut Attorney General this week sued Vonage for allegedly misleading customers over the company's ability to connect them to 911 emergency services. The state became the third one to take legal action against Vonage over the company's emergency 911 practices in the last several weeks. Both Texas and Michigan have similarly targeted Vonage over emergency 911.

The Connecticut lawsuit claims that Vonage misrepresents its emergency 911 services by not telling customers that limitations in the service may delay, or completely prevent, an emergency response. The suit alleges that Vonage 911 calls may not be routed to a live operator, that the calls may take longer than 911 calls made over wirelines or cell phones, and that customers are at a greater risk of encountering busy signals compared to similar calls made over wirelines or cell phones. The suit also claims that Vonage buries a notice in fine print telling customers they should retain a backup method of dialing 911.

The suit was prompted by an incident in which a Connecticut woman dialed 911 when her infant required emergency medical attention. The woman was not connected to an emergency dispatcher, and instead reached the local police department's main phone number, where she was greeted by a recording, claims the Attorney General.

The suit alleges Vonage has violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), and seeks unspecified financial penalties.

"Inadequate disclosure about 911 capabilities is not only bad business --- it's life threatening," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "The company deceptively leads consumers to believe their emergency access will be as reliable as conventional landlines. Every second wasted routing calls could mean life or death. This lawsuit should sound an alarm: Consumers need and deserve to know whether 9-1-1 means real, immediate human help, or an answering machine."The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) joined the Connecticut Attorney General in the action. DCP Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez said in a statement, "Consumers need to know exactly what their 911 emergency dialing capabilities are. How Vonage represents those capabilities leaves a false impression that dialing 911 will result in direct contact with emergency dispatchers. There is evidence that that is not the case. As a matter of public safety, consumers need full disclosure of the facts in order to make a decision that could have life-or-death consequences."

Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz told the Reuters news agency that Connecticut customers have been given "full disclosure" of the limitations of the 911 service. She added that "We're always willing to look at improvements to our disclosures, but the ultimate improvement is access to the 911 network. We really need to focus on the root of the issue."

Toward that end, this week Vonage signed a contract with Verizon to allow Vonage customers to use Verizon's emergency 911 services. Whenever a Vonage customer dials 911 within Verizon's territory, the caller's location and callback number will be delivered to emergency services personnel, in the same way that wireless and landline information is delivered via 911.

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