Update: About 911 and "disconnected" landlines

Consumer Reports News: May 13, 2009 09:41 AM

As some of you have pointed out in our recent post, Using your cell phone as your home phone comes with a risk, some states do require local carriers to maintain a "soft" or "warm" dial tone, which allows you to call 911 on a line that has been disconnected or is otherwise inactive.

An up-to-date-list of affected states is elusive; we struck out in obtaining one from the FCC and some industry groups. However, the following are likely states for some form of soft-tone requirement; we assembled the list from data in an FCC report published in 2000 (Adobe Acrobat software required) and a North American Numbering Council (NANCE) report published in 2002 (link requires Microsoft Word or compatible word processing software).

Here they are:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

However, we can't confirm that coverage is in effect in all those states today. Also, some soft-tone coverage is limited, in time or other respects. For example, according to the NANCE report, emergency service in Oklahoma is mandated for only 30 days following the suspension of service. In Ohio, the period is only 14 days.

Conversely, some carriers may provide service that isn't mandated by law, according to Rick Jones, Operations Issues Director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), an advocacy organization for the 911 emergency telephone number system. Mr. Jones says many larger carriers provide soft-dial-tone 911 coverage even in states that don't require it.

Mr. Jones advises prospective cord cutters to check with their carrier about what 911 coverage, if any, might be available with their landline before canceling service. What if you move into a new house or apartment where you're weighing not getting a landline? Use the fact that a soft-tone line should also reach the phone company to test it out. Plug in a phone and call the carrier's business number, typically 611. (Such a test might also be wise after you discontinue service, as a check that you in fact received accurate information about soft-tone service.)

The NENA web site has additional helpful info and safety tips regarding 911including 911 on cell phones. For more information about 911 and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, see: http://www.911voip.org. —Mike Gikas

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