Using the Internet for phone access seems like a great idea, and the price is right. If you use computer based products like Skype it is basically free and who doesn’t like free?

Companies are aggressively marketing VOIP solutions. In Alberta, Shaw Cable is pushing it hard. But can they provide 911 assistance? 911 is not something you call often, maybe never, but you want to be damn sure that if you need 911 you can get through to an operator.

Late last month there was a sad story of a family using a VOIP 911 service and the Paramedics being dispatched to the wrong address, this resulted in a young child’s death.

Today’s failure of the Shaw 911 service was potentiallly much worse. At about 8:20 this morning the entire Shaw infrastructure came to a crashing halt. No cable service, no Internet service, and no telephone service. The outage lasted somewhere around an hour. Calls to Shaw (from real telephones) revealed that their network, and I quote the Customer Service rep ‘Had Frozen’.

BNN received this comment which I think should give pause for thought to anyone thinking of using a VOIP solution

May 27 2008 – Shaw digital phone service in Calgary experienced an “outage”. I discovered this when I tried to make a 911 call this A.M. from a fixed home VOIP service through Shaw digital phone service and could not connect. This was not an issue related to an outdated address, there simply was NO service.

When we subscribed to Shaw digital service, we were told that 911 would always be available and that a power (hence the battery backup) or any other service interruption would not affect our ability to connect with 911 through the VOIP service.

Apparently this is not true as I found out only when the marketed as “guaranteed” service failed.

VOIP has serious and potentially fatal flaws that are not acceptable.

Shaw’s explanation – “we had an outage in Calgary” – Unacceptable!

BNN is attempting to follow up on this story, and as more details come out we will share them. Two VOIP problems inside 30 days, that is two too many for me.

Simon Barrett

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