Have you read your Terms of Service lately? How about your service-level agreement? Any legal paperwork from your VoIP company? No?
Then you’re like the rest of us. The terms of service (also known as Terms and Conditions) is that long legal document that you don’t actually read, even though you agree that you’ve read the terms and agree to them when you purchase the service.
But you should read your VoIP provider's terms of service. Terms of service are designed to protect a service provider in the event of an emergency or a dispute - and they also protect you, the consumer. So what kinds of things might your VoIP provider explain in the terms of service?
Emergency service limitations with VoIP
Most VoIP providers have a clause regarding 911 dialing and the limitations of the service they offer. For example, Phone Power’s Terms of Service tells you that if there is a power outage, 911 services will not work:
“Be aware that 911 Dialing does not function in the event of a power failure or disruption. If there is an interruption in the power supply, the Service, including 911 Dialing, will not function until power is restored. Following a power failure or disruption, you may need to reset or reconfigure the Device prior to utilizing the Service, including 911 Dialing.” Phone Power Terms of Service
So, if you have Phone Power, it might be a good idea to have a backup phone for 911 access in a power outage. A cell phone is fine, just make sure you get service in your building.
Phone Power’s Terms of Service also tells you that it uses a 3rd party to route 911 calls. That company will be responsible for successfully completing your 911. This outsourcing is a standard service for most telecommunications companies, but you should know this ahead of time.
Most VoIP service providers will also tell you that if the network is congested at the time of your 911 call, it may go through slowly or not at all.
“There may be a greater possibility of network congestion and/or reduced speed in the routing of a 911 Dialing call made utilizing the Service as compared to traditional 911 dialing over traditional public telephone networks.” Phone Power Terms of Service
This is also a typical terms of service statement.
The 911 section in most VoIP provider’s Terms of Service is there to clarify the procedures your call will follow in an emergency. You should read, just to know what you might need to do or expect in the event of an emergency.
Acceptable Use Clause: When Unlimited Calls are Limited
A lot of VoIP service providers offer some kind of unlimited service. However, you’re not free and dry.
If you read your Terms of Service, you will find a section of the contract named the Acceptable Use Clause. Your company’s acceptable use policy protects its valuable VoIP network from abuse and traffic overloads; the acceptable use policy is something you need to know because violating the Acceptable Use Policy can give your VoIP provider the right to terminate your service or bill you for the excessive amount.
Residential usage limits
If you are using VoIP service at home, your VoIP provider expects you to be using your VoIP service like a home phone. Excessive, repetitive calling of the same numbers or excessive minute usage (2000 and 3000 minutes a month) makes the VoIP provider wonder if you’re actually a business using the home phone service.
VoIP home phone services generally tend to be much cheaper than VoIP business services, so if you are actually a business, they want you to pay for a business plan rather than a residential plan. If they suspect that you are actually a business, they’ll start charging you their business rates if they have them or they’ll just terminate your service.
There is a reason for this: businesses make many more calls during the day than residential customers and businesses make many more calls, just in general. Residential plans tend to use less equipment and fewer computers because residential users tend to make fewer calls. That’s why they’re less expensive - they cost less to administer.
Business usage limits
If you are using a business VoIP service, you have a special set of guidelines to follow. Business VoIP providers generally don’t want their services used in any manner that could tarnish their image, even though they are not technically responsible for anything someone using a phone does (that’s another part of the terms of service).
For example, Vonage Business Solutions’ Terms of Service details a short list of actions that can get your service terminated. These include telemarketing, auto dialing, continuous and repetitive call forwarding, fax blasting, or anything that would be viewed as a criminal offense. Call centers are usually prohibited on most VoIP business lines.
Fax blasting is illegal, so don’t do that ever. But if you need to telemarket or if you need to set up a call center, make sure you communicate with your VoIP provider. They might be able to set something up to help you out.
If you violate the acceptable use policy, your VoIP provider has some language about what actions they might take in their terms of service. They don’t ever have to do anything, but it’s good to know if they’ll charge you more money, what they’ll charge, how they’ll react, and what other penalties they might assess.
Also, most VoIP providers want to keep a customer. They’d rather not terminate you - just so you know.
Any and all cancellation, arbitration, activation, long distance, setup (etc.) fees will be listed in the Terms of Service. Check the terms of service to make sure there aren’t any fees hiding in there.
Always check the fees section of the agreement before signing up and make sure you can afford whatever it is they are going to charge you. It’s also a good idea to ask your VoIP provider, upon sign up, what your first bill should look like.
Also, most activation/setup/cancellation fees are at the VoIP provider’s discretion. If you ask nicely, sometimes the VoIP provider will waive the fees for you.
If your VoIP provider has a satisfaction guarantee on their website, make sure it’s also mentioned in the Terms of Service. If it’s not listed in the Terms of Service, the company may not have to uphold it because it wasn’t included in the contract you signed.
The satisfaction or money-back guarantee may also rely on you returning equipment in time or cancelling a certain way. Make sure you check the terms of service so you know the correct way to get your refund.
Most VoIP providers will detail a cancellation process in their Terms of Service. Make sure you know what the procedure is.
For example, ITP’s Terms of Service explicitly states that you cannot cancel via email. Other providers might allow you to cancel through e-mail or phone; you need to check your terms of service to find out the proper procedure.
Telecom companies can be tricky with their Terms of Service and VoIP providers are telecommunications companies. You should always read the Terms of Service so you know what you’re getting yourself into, otherwise you might be mystified by your bill or be surprised when your service doesn’t work.
A little light reading, now, could save you a lot of trouble down the road.