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VoIP: It’s A Phone, It’s a Computer, It’s
[Republished from the FTC web site]
Voice over Internet Protocol — VoIP — is a new
way to make and receive telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection
rather than a regular phone line. VoIP converts your phone call — actually,
the voice signal from your phone — into a digital signal that travels
through the Internet to the person you are calling. If you are calling a plain
old telephone number, the signal is converted back at the other end. If you’re
comfortable with new technology, you may be interested in learning more about
VoIP. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection
agency, suggests that it’s smart to do some research on VoIP before signing
up for it.
VoIP technology is offered by some new companies that
specialize in VoIP service, some traditional telephone and cable companies,
as well as some Internet Service Providers. Most services using VoIP allow
you to call anyone with a telephone number — including local, long
distance, cellular, and international numbers. Others may allow you to call
only other people with the same service. In addition, most VoIP services
allow you to use a traditional telephone through an adaptor, but others work
only over your computer or a special VoIP phone.
If you get VoIP service that allows you to make a call using
a phone with an adaptor, you dial the same way you always have. If you get
a VoIP service that works directly from your computer, you need to use special
software, a microphone, speakers and a sound card. If your service assigns
you a regular phone number, anyone can call you from a regular (or analog)
phone without any special equipment.
Possible Benefits of VoIP Service
Many VoIP services
include unlimited local and long distance
calling plans (at least within the United
States and Canada) for a fixed price,
plus a range of interesting features,
- the ability to have more than one phone number, including phone numbers
with different area codes. For example, if you live in New York and your
kids live in San Francisco, you can have a San Francisco phone number, and
their calls to you will be local.
- integrated voicemail and email message systems so you can listen to your
voicemail on your computer or your email on your phone.
- with special software and hardware, the ability to take your VoIP system
with you if you travel with your computer, allowing personal or business
calls to be routed to you no matter where you are.
Any decision to sign up for a VoIP service should
be based on careful consideration of the facts, and your comfort level with
new technology. Investigate the companies you are considering for your service.
An Internet search engine can lead you to a wealth of information about consumer
experiences with particular providers.
Among the issues to think about
Terms and Conditions. Get
a handle on the costs, terms, and conditions
of service. Many VoIP providers offer
monthly calling plans: make sure you
know the number and type of calls you’ll
get for the amount you’ll be billed.
VoIP plans generally look inexpensive
compared to regular telephone plans,
but don’t forget to factor in the
cost of broadband Internet access — for
most people, that will mean paying separately
for cable modem service or digital subscriber
line (DSL) service.
Limits of Service.
- 911 Services: Most VoIP services don’t yet have the same access to
the 911 emergency system as traditional phone lines. However, some services
include a way to route calls to emergency operators and to let the operator
know where you’re calling from. This situation will change: According
to a recent directive from the Federal Communications Commission, VoIP providers
that facilitate calls to or from traditional phone lines must deliver all
911 calls to the customer’s local emergency operator by the end of
2005, and where possible, give emergency operators the caller’s
number and location. Providers also must give consumers a way to update
their location information.
- Phone Number: Many VoIP companies can arrange for your current phone
number to be switched to your VoIP service, but that takes time, and
in the interim, you will have a new phone number.>
- Directory Assistance: VoIP services don’t have the same access to
directory assistance services as traditional telephone service. Your telephone
number probably won’t be included in directory service listings
provided by the local telephone company.
- Power or Service Outages: If you’ve switched to VoIP and lose power,
you’ll have no phone service until power is restored; if you
lose your Internet connection, your phone service will be out, as well.
Consider backup phone service for these kinds of situations.
Equipment and Installation. Installing
VoIP service is not as simple as plugging in a telephone. You may have to
spend some time connecting equipment and adjusting to a new system. Note
that there are different ways to use the technology: An analog terminal adaptor
works on your regular phone to enable VoIP calls. Or you can use special
Internet telephones, known as IP phones, that look like regular phones but
have all the software and hardware necessary to connect directly to your
computer’s router to make or receive calls. If you use VoIP to make
computer-to-computer calls, you’ll need special software, a microphone,
a sound card, and speakers. If you’re using VoIP and a phone adaptor
to make calls, your computer doesn’t have to be turned on as long as
your broadband Internet connection is working.
Privacy and Security. VoIP
calls are transmitted over the Internet, a fact that raises privacy and security
risks that are not at issue with regular telephone service. For example,
VoIP services can be attacked by computer viruses or worms; you can be subject
to SPIT (Spam over Internet Telephony), a new kind of spam, and left with
mass voice mail messages in your inbox; and you can be caught in a denial
of service attack.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair
business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers
spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or
to get free
information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC
enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints
Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and
criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.