The Hidden Gotcha of VoIP phones

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Craig Ellison

I’ll admit it. I’m an early adopter of most technology. I’ve had a Vonage account since shortly after the company started. Recently, I added a second service, SunRocket, and upgraded my router to one that has a robust QOS engine. All of that technology was useless when I needed an operator to check on the status of a phone line.

My wife made her daily call to her elderly mother in Cincinnati to check in on her. The phone was busy – not unusual. She tried an hour later, and the phone was still busy – still possible since my mother-in-law is on dialup. My wife repeatedly called her mother throughout the day and was greeted by the same busy signal, so I suggested that she call the Verizon operator for a line check. That’s when the problem started.

The Verizon operator looked up our account from our caller ID, and knew that we didn’t have Verizon as our long distance carrier. In fact, on my Verizon line, I dropped all long distance and local extended calling services. I keep the line for incoming calls, and as a lifeline for the occasional power outage – even though my network, cable modem and VOIP TAs are all plugged into a large UPS. The Verizon operator informed us that she couldn’t (wouldn’t??) check the line since Verizon wasn’t our long distance carrier. Never mind the fact that they own the copper and I pay them monthly for basic phone services. The operator suggested that I contact our long distance carrier for assistance.

I keep an MCI calling card for those limited times when for whatever reason I need to make a call on the traditional phone. Of course, there’s no way to contact an operator on MCI – you dial an 800 number, put in your pin and dial your phone number.

Plan “B” – I tried calling customer service at both Vonage and SunRocket. Since they don’t own the copper on the far end of the connection, all they could do for me was to dial the number and make sure that their network was routing the call properly. The customer service representative at each VOIP provider called my mother-in-law’s number and both reported a buzy signal.

On to Plan “C” – I tried making the call with my Verizon Wireless cell phone, and, of course still got the busy signal. Like the Verizon operator, the Verizon wireless operator couldn’t (wouldn’t) check the line either.

Plan “D” – try to contact an operator in Cincinnati. An exhaustive search of the Cincinnati Bell web site yielded no usable numbers. Customer service had closed for the day.

Fearing the worst, we called the local township police department in Cincinnati and asked that they send an officer out to make sure that my mother-in-law was OK. A half hour later our phone rang. My wife’s mother was fine. She had set down the cordless phone without disconnecting a call, so the line stayed open for close to 8 hours.

I’m not sure that there’s a good solution to a problem like this. I fault my landline carrier, Verizon, probably the only ones that could to a line check, for not helping out. It’s pretty stressful when you can’t get in contact with an elderly parent it a distant city.

For now, I think I’m going to give my mother-in-law a pay-as-you-go cell phone for Christmas. I just hope she keeps it charged up and turned on.

Has anyone else had a similar experience using VOIP as their only long distance carrier?

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