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Texas Sues Vonage Over 911 Calls

The Texas attorney general slapped Voice over IP provider Vonage Holdings with a lawsuit Tuesday [March 22], claiming that Vonage misled consumers about its 911 emergency services.

The lawsuit, filed by Texas AG Greg Abbott, seems to hold Vonage to blame mainly for the company's aggressive advertising, including its claims that VoIP can replace "traditional" telephone services. Since Vonage customers must take extra steps to register their numbers to make 911 services work, it is "misleading, false and confusing" to advertise VoIP as a traditional phone service, the lawsuit claims. The state is seeking penalties of $20,000 for each violation of the perceived transgression.

Vonage, which is busy trying to track down more technically inclined opponents, was caught offguard by the lawsuit and is scrambling to respond. Brooke Shulz, Vonage vice president for corporate communications, forwarded to reporters screen shots of service-registration Web pages where Vonage customers are informed about how the company's 911 services function, noting clearly that customers need to register their numbers to make 911 services work.

To press its point, the Texas attorney general's press release related details of a recent VoIP 911 horror story, involving a house break-in in Houston.

In its press release Tuesday, the attorney general's office said: "The dangers posed by Vonage's failure to clearly disclose the lack of traditional 9-1-1 access surfaced last month when a Houston family that subscribed to Vonage's service tried to call 9-1-1 during a home invasion. Two victims were shot multiple times, but the victims' daughter was never able to get through to 9-1-1."

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