FCC defines VoIP thusly: Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line. Some VoIP services may only allow you to call other people using the same service, but others may allow you to call anyone who has a telephone number - including local, long distance, mobile, and international numbers. Also, while some VoIP services only work over your computer or a special VoIP phone, other services allow you to use a traditional phone connected to a VoIP adapter.
Sounds good, right? People like VoIP services because they can have one phone number where they can always be reached (cell, home, etc), bills are often lower than traditional landlines and long distance calls are free. While a VoIP phone looks like a traditional phone, it connects to the Internet, NOT a telephone line. So, what does that mean for you?
It means that some VoIP providers do not provide enhanced 9-1-1 information to dispatchers (name, address, callback number) and no VoIP numbers are automatically in the ECNS (Emergency Community Notification System) reverse calling system. This is easy enough to fix by registering your phone number with the ECNS system, click here for more information on ECNS and how it is used.
Even if a VoIP phone is programmed to call 9-1-1, the call may not route to your local 9-1-1 Communications Center or you may hear this message, "You must dial 9-1-1 from another telephone. Nine-one-one is not available from this telephone line. No emergency personnel will be dispatched. Please hang up and dial 9-1-1 from a different phone."
The call might also be directed to a non-emergency number and not given the same priority as a 9-1-1 call. Additionally, your name, address and the number you are calling from may not be provided to the answering center. If you are unable to speak, help cannot be sent to you. VoIP phones generally do not work during a power outage, so this is another aspect to think about when signing up for a VoIP plan.
Comcast Digital Voice is similar to VoIP, but does not have the same drawbacks. Click here for technical jargon that explains why it's different.
This is not to say that no one should use VoIP services. We just want people to be informed consumers and always have a backup plan! Before you sign up for a VoIP service, take the time to ask the provider if 9-1-1 will work, if your name and information will automatically be provided to the 9-1-1 Communications Center and if the call will automatically be routed to your local center.
So, in summary, if you have VoIP or are looking to switch to a VoIP system, great, go for it. But, know what you are getting into and adjust accordingly!