Finally, We Have A 311 Solution

Figure 3: Portech MV-370 SIP-GSM gateway

In the spring of 2008 I installed a SIP-to-GSM cellular gateway as a means of backing up our wholly IP-based home and office phones. The installation of the cellular gateway allowed me to route calls to and from T-Mobile should our DSL circuit go down. In addition, it provided us access to 911 and 411 services that were not at the time provided by our ITSPs.

The one thing we wanted that it did not address was access to 311 service. In Houston a 311 call rings a non-emergency city call center that is intended to take notifications about city services. For example, we call 311 when we see a street light out, a broken fire hydrant, large fallen trees in the roadways or packs of wild dogs roaming dangerously.

Actually, we’ve never seen packs of wild dogs. That was just a bit of embellishment intended for your amusement.

Typically cell providers don’t route these 311 calls. My T-Mobile cell phone can’t call 311. My wife’s cell phone can make that call, but it’s an AT&T issued phone on a City of Houston account. If anyone is going to have 311 access to the cities non-emergency helpline, it’s the cities own preferred carrier.

It also makes me wonder if Comcast Digital Phone users can call 311?

While trolling through a city web site looking for something else I was finally found a local number that rings through to the 311 call center. It’s intended for people who live outside of the core city area codes of 281, 713 or 832, but are still technically part of the city of Houston. That number is (713) 837-0311.

Now armed with this information I am able to program my local Asterisk server to support 311 in its dialplan.  Or perhaps I’ll add it as a dedicated extension to our OnSIP configuration. Whatever the approach to implementation, somehow, magically, we can now call 311 from our home phones. It probably wouldn’t be an issue for most people, but my wife works for the city, and reports all sorts of things via 311…when she can.