Brad Feld

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I Figured Out The Problem With Vonage’s 911 Service

Feb 20, 2006
Category Investments

After trying a few different address combinations, I finally figured out that Vonage’s 911 address database must suck.  Here’s the deal.

I don’t actually have a legal physical address.  I’ve mentioned this before in conjunction with issues I’ve had around the Patriot Act.  I came up with a solution that solves the Patriot Act issue (that the USPS will accept without rejecting my mail).  Occasionally it’s annoying (e.g. when someone tries to send a Fedex to my PO Box – yes – that still happens), but I generally ignore the fact that I’m theoretically off the grid since I have a T1 line coming into my house (thanks Qwest).

Whatever database Vonage is using for 911 doesn’t have my physical address.  Now – this wasn’t a problem for Qwest as they likely mapped my address based on my wired telephone pairs and their own special address database.  But presumably Vonage bought their database from someone and it depends on a database that – well – doesn’t include weirdos like me that don’t have a “legal physical address.” 

Interestingly, when I check Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, and Google Earth, they nail it – both displaying my address and providing correct directions – even though I don’t have a “legal physical address.”  I happen to know that Telcontar powers these services, so at least they are getting the correct data.

Presumably Vonage should give Telcontar a call.  But – it gets trickier.  In May, when I go to Paris, I’m going to bring my Vonage phone (and router) with me.  I’m using a public IP address (yes – I’ve already checked to make sure I know the configuration in my apartment) so Vonage should be able to find me that way.  Oh – 911 doesn’t work in Paris.  Hmmm.  Then – when I go to my place in Alaska this summer, we’ll have the same drill.  If I forget to update my “current address” at Vonage, the police will show up somewhere (assuming Vonage figures out my Colorado address) when the axe murder shows up at my place in Alaska.  Hey Vonage – there’s this thing called geolocation that can at least tell you when I’m not at the location you happen to think I’m at – at the minimum you could remind me to update my physical information.

I imagine this is going to get worse before it gets better as the regulated telco services (e.g. requirement for 911) intersects with new and exciting IP services.  Quova’s been on the front end of this with territory rights and the Olympics and Live NBA Games in Brazil (it’s not just a US problem although Quova has been working with Major League Baseball on this issue since 2003.) 

Geography + IP + Regulated Services = Mess.