AT&T looks for 911 assistance

The long distance carrier has hired Intrado to work on a way for Internet phone customers to make emergency calls.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
AT&T plans to announce Tuesday that it has hired Intrado to develop a way for the long distance company's Internet phone customers to reach 911 emergency services.

The 911 service accompanying AT&T's residential Internet phone offering will make its debut in the spring, according to Intrado. A spokesman for AT&T could not be reached for comment.

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While they have been hailed for costing up to 30 percent less than traditional dialing plans, so-called voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services often do not include the ability to dial 911. The reason is that VoIP calls are routed over the Internet, while most emergency calling centers are only capable of receiving calls using older circuit-switched telephone technology.

Analysts say the ability to dial 911 is considered key if VoIP services are to become more widespread, potentially even replacing a majority of traditional phone lines.

The ability to call 911 also is among the chief reasons state utility regulators and the Federal Communications Commission are debating whether to regulate VoIP, which for the past decade has operated free of the rules that traditional phone companies must follow.

Some VoIP service providers suggest that callers use a cell phone to dial 911, while others have created a way to dial into nonemergency lines at police stations to report emergencies.