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.
There remain a great many ITSPs out there that still don’t provide 911 or similar services. Those that target the residential marketplace, like AT&T (argh!), Verizon, Vonage, Broadvoice, Nuvio, etc have this all worked out. However, the myriad other smaller players that target the SMB space often don’t.
In moving to a wholly VOIP situation around here we accepted this reality acknowledging that for us its merely an inconvenience. There are at least two cell phones in the house that fill the gap for 911 and 411. However, cell phones often can’t call 311.
While not critical, 311 access is good to have. This is the number used for non-emergency access to city services. If you see a downed tree on the street, broken water main, or traffic lights out this this the number you call to report the trouble.
This brings me to a question. Can an end user establish their own relationship with the service providers that handle 911/411/311 going around the VOIP provider in the middle?
As it happens the vast majority of E911 service for VOIP providers is handled by one company. Their database and technology are at the heart of how E911 is handled for VOIP users. I contacted them but have yet to receive a rational reply to my email. Their initial response was only to say that they don’t comment on their relationships with their customers. Whatever that means.