back to article Canadian toddler dies after VOIP 911 call

A Canadian toddler has died after a VOIP-based 911 call sent an ambulance to the wrong address. Last week, as reported by the CBC, a Calgary family dialed 911 via their internet phone service when 18-month-old Elijah Luck went into medical distress. Their VOIP provider, Comwave, then dispatched an ambulance to the family's …


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  1. Jeff
    Thumb Down

    Customer's must update their info...

    How could CBC have been billing these people unless it had their _current_ address?

    More corporate irresponsibility.

    Heads are gonna roll...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So where have the bills been sent for the past 3 years?

    Seem to me that this should had been a no brainer.

  3. Daniel B.

    You pay what you get

    Thing is, I prefer to have landline+DSL than having broadband+VoIP because of these reasons. VoIP might be very nice for cheap calls, but for real emergencies you don't want to have a botched 911 redirect. Even worse would be that your internet link's down, or DDoS'd, or otherwise b0rked by "traffic shaping".

    Landlines tend to be available most of the time, instantly, and without any kind of latency. Too bad a toddler had to pay the price for this oversight.

    And anyway, as some others have mentioned, how the hell were these dudes being billed? Ok, maybe they had one of those "charge my credit card automatically" schemes, but didn't they notice the lack of bills??? Looks like these guys themselves are responsible for neglecting stuff like this.

  4. Robert Moore

    Bill to credit card

    I have VOIP through Vonage. I love the service. Most of the VOIP companies require a credit card to sign up.

  5. Blacklight


    Various VoIP providers may bill via Credit or Debit card - and if you move, they only have the address you *may* have supplied at the time.

    One of my VoIP providers does request my physical address on their web interface - in the event of an emergency services call, however it's dependant on me - and also they bill electronically, and I pay via credit/debit card (which may vary depending on mood) so it's not fixed.

    If you're after least cost routing, my rule is always have a paid-up landline available. My ATA is configured to dump emergency services calls direct to the POTS/PSTN interface, to get around any confusion....

    YMMV - but if you may rely on it - know how it works...

  6. kain preacher Silver badge

    911 failure

    I also forget to say some viop companies do annual and quarterly billing . SO if you move between billing cycles how would they know.

  7. Sampler
    Dead Vulture

    Not as straight forward as you think

    My VOIP supplier is paid via transfer or direct debit, my bills are sent by email - they have no way of knowing my supplied address is actually correct.

    Though her supplying the right address to the operator should negate all that anyway.

  8. Dale Loyd
    IT Angle

    Ever heard of electronic billing?

    Direct debit, etc? You don't have to have a bill for a service snail-mailed in order to see what you're being charged for and pay. My gas and electric bils are online PDF files if I want a hard copy.

    I don't think there's any 'blame' here, just unfortunate circumstance.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CBC is a news organization

    Their service was provided by Comwave, I would imagine, like probably most (a lot?) of other VoIP providers, they pay by credit card or direct deposit, address is unnecessary then...


  10. Steve Mann
    Thumb Down

    More importantly

    911 (the 999 of North America) should just bloody work!

    These sodding VOIP vendors get away with not implementing it at all for I don't know how many months, then do a piss poor job when they finally get round to it. They get to skirt this and other regulations simply because they aren't subject to the same conditions of operation and oversight as the trad phone companies.

    This sort of "couldn't care less until someone gets hurt" attitude is rife in the new "high tech" world and is the single most important reason why the bloody cable TV company will never get me to allow them to provide me with phone "service" if I have any say in it. They can't get a decent TV picture to me any more (they went digital, then scrooged out on the bandwidth so any sudden change in picture brightness makes the screen look like a cheap polarised glass toy for a few seconds as it pixelates and they want my phone service? Fat chance.

    Now ask the bleeding Cell Phone providers how *they* are doing with 911 signal location implementation. In New York the answer is static. Last I heard the money appropriated to make it happen at the state level by levying a tax on cell phone calls was used to buy upstate State Troopers new boots.

    What a Brave New World.

  11. Richard Silver badge

    I really don't understand this.

    The most important thing you do when you make an emergency call is to TELL THE OPERATOR WHERE YOU ARE.

    You don't assume they'll work it out - you tell them. The location is the single most important piece of information, even more important than a description of the problem.

    The more precise you can be the better - if you're at home, there's no excuse for not giving the entire address, down to house number and postal/zip code. If you're out shopping/driving or something it's harder, but still the most important thing to do.

    Anybody who doesn't do this is an idiot. Probably caused by panic, but an idiot nonetheless.

    Also, in the UK at least all the VOIP phones say "not suitable for emergency calls" or similar.

  12. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  13. Daniel Hoover

    VoIP provider failed them

    my VoIP box won't let me make/receive calls after UNPLUGGING [as for a move to another location] until I confirm [keypad] that I am connected athe the address of record. It would force me to call customer services otherwise.

  14. Daniel Hoover

    bills can go one place...

    ..the voip box another. .Force the user to re-establish the location or surrender liability at every move/unplug, as AT&T Callvantage does!

  15. Nick Palmer

    @Jeff & AC

    You're assuming that the family were receiving paper-based bills. They may (depending on whether the option was available - I honestly don't know) have opted for payment by direct debit or standing order and have adopted electronic billing. It's irresponsible to assume facts not in evidence...

  16. Kanhef

    re: billing

    Odds are it's all done online to save the cost of postage, paper, and handling all those cheques. No physical address needed.

  17. Nick

    Never again

    If VoIP is going to supplant PSTN, then we've got to get this one right. Going to market with a service which doesn't handle emergency calling with 100% right-first-time is not on. Caveat emptor will not do.

  18. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Bills get sent?

    Who gets paper bills these days? Automatic billing, email invoicing... most companies either work exclusively electronically, or encourage customers to do so.

    Paris, because she ain't seen a bill, ever.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "no brainer"?

    Well given that the majority of bills are paid directly via my bank using something not all that modern called a "direct debit" (and those that aren't are paid online with web billing) it wouldn't at all be unlikely that someone might not get around to telling the VOIP-telco that they'd moved.

  20. Adam Foxton
    Paris Hilton

    Bill address

    If the service kept working and they were billed the money every month I can't see many people breaking much of a sweat over missing bills. At least with the bills I get there's not much personal information- certainly nothing hugely useful if they've not updated their address- and no loss of service. So it'd be at best a "I'll do it later" task.

    And when moving house, there's normally more pressing things to do than change your address on some online phone service thing.

    If they HAD changed their billing address and the rest of the system hadn't been updated- including the potentially life-saving 911 address- then this is bordering on corporate manslaughter. And as it'd appear to be an interdepartmental communications problem that'd mean that the rolling head would be of someone pretty high up.

    You can see Paris there, thinking "How could someone say this is a no-brainer?"

  21. vincent himpe

    the problem

    is that the voip to landline gateway may be somewhere completely different then where you are based.

    if you have autobilling the address may even be the one from the bank.

    This is of course a tragic incident , but there is a reason that things like the Skype phone ( linksys , netgear etc 0 carry a BIG warning label that the thing is NOT a phone and that emergency service calling is not guaranteed to work correctly.

    People want everything free these days ... and then something like this happens.

    I too am a Skype user , but i take it as it comes. And i do keep a regular landline as well . just have the cheapest plan ( local calls only)

  22. Rolf Howarth


    Sad as this case is, it seems to me you pay for what you get. If a fixed landline is slightly more expensive for telephone calls well... maybe there's a reason.

  23. Chris C

    Am I the only one?

    I think we can all agree this is a sad occurrence, one which should not have happened. So I don't mean to diminish or demean it, but am I the only one who's sick of people saying things like:

    "This is a first for Canada, and it's a tragic one... This was a very young boy."

    Would it have been any less tragic if the boy was older? The simple fact is that it was a routine emergency call (if there ever can be such a thing) that could have possibly had a better outcome had the emergency services arrived more quickly. It doesn't matter if the person was 2 years old or 20 years old. The fact that a decent life (not a violent criminal) was lost is what makes it sad, not the age of the person.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ermmm - e-billing?

    Awful story . . . but likely they never received a paper bill.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Billing

    If it was set up on the Candian equivalent of a direct debit (I don't know if such a thing exists or if it does what it's called), then it's entirely possible that bills were being sent to the old address but the company still getting paid...

    Also, if the service was just VoIP, and not the actual internet connection as well, then there would be no necessity for the correct address to be on file for the service to work. None of this however offsets the fact that a child has died here, and especially that if the aunt really did give the correct address, that was ignored!

  26. kain preacher Silver badge

    @AC and Jeff

    Credit card billing. As long as the address is correct for the CC it will bill Oh and before you say will the should use the CC address, some people have their bills sent to post office box, and business often have a different billing address than their physical address .

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. Marvin the Martian

    Billing without address no problem

    If you do the billing online (VOIP = internetty, you've heard of it), then there's no problem and no paperwork needed as long as bills are paid on time. And from that payment no address is deduceable. I guess afterward they could find out that the address was wrong, from their routing, but that would not be something you continuously check.

    Now, if they'd have an all-in-one broadband+phone (and possibly +tv) deal, so the company would as a consequence know where they live.

    Maybe the company has even been sending every Xmas a "dear customer" card to their old address?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Well a couple of things....

    Just recently, I had an emergency SMS from my GSM provider (Voda) saying they needed to contact me urgently.

    This turned out to be that although I had given them my new address, somehow their system had still been sending postal bills to my previous address - and eventually - the mail had been returned.

    They knew it was me when I called though, and after all, they did have my DD details, which I was able to confirm. Sometimes these systems don't hang together.

    However, the second item is, I use a VoIP provider via my mobile too. I'm not sure if OfCom are going to require them to provide 999 service, like they say they want most VoIP providers to use - and there seems precious little point when I can just make a GSM 999 call.

    I'd be interested in people's views.



    p.s. It seems about the right time of night for this symbol ;-)

  30. Anonymous Coward

    @So where have the bills been sent for the past 3 years?

    They were probably paying direct from their bank account with any invoicing sent via email.

    It's a no-brainer.

  31. Graham Lockley

    not quite a no brainer

    >How could CBC have been billing these people unless it had their _current_ address?

    Not trying to defend the VOIP provider but a possibilty is two databases.

    Its not unusual for a billing address to be different from the address that the service is provided to. Its possible that the billing database may have been updated but not the service address. I do wonder what might have happened had a mobile phone been used though, maybe the poor lad would have survived.

  32. Aubry Thonon
    Thumb Down


    I grieve for the loss of the family and feel *really* sorry for the kid - he was an innocent bystander - but marvel at people's (not just the parent's) stupidity.

    Who in their right mind relies on TCP/IP for mission-critical application comms? The damn thing is designed to "gracefully loose" information, FFS! Whether it be emails, documents, voice, whatever - TCP/IP is *convenient* and *flexible* (best design so far for the purpose) but it is not *guaranteed delivery*!

    Surprise, surprise, you decide to go with VOIP because it's cheaper and complain because you (don't get as clear a line)/(have to compete with other TCP/IP apps)/(aren't located physically). Well, DUH! TCP/IP was designed not to care about physical locations ON PURPOSE and now people wonder why it's so hard for VOIP providers to locate callers physically? Wrong tool for the wrong job, people! "well, a hammer drives nails in real good, so why don't it work properly with mah screws?"

    Jeez. Visions of the "cruise control" lawsuits of the 80s come to mind. These are the kind of people which caused at least one chain-saw manufacturer to have to place a "do not stop chainsaw with genitalia" warning in their user manual.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Out of interest

    Why didn't they say their fucking address?

  34. Pete

    My thoughts...

    go to the family concerned. What a tragedy. The 911 service should just work and, in my eyes, whatever the circumstances, the family bears no responsibility whatsoever for what happened. Procedures should have been in place, complete with caller confirmation at the time of the 911 call, to ensure that the ambulance was sent to the correct address. As far as I see it, the company should pay dearly for what was a senseless loss of human life.

  35. Jonathan Barrie

    Billing Address was Correct

    The problem wasn't their billing address, it was correct. Unfortunately they were not aware that they had to separately update their 911 information as well. In my opinion this is a failure on Comwave's part. They should be prompting users for when a billing change is made.

    This is the exact reason why I stick with a landline.

  36. lglethal Silver badge

    Emergency service op & family should take blame

    The Emergency Services Operator should take the majority of the blame here - the first thing they should have done (and id be suprised if it isnt in the manual) is to ask for the address where the ambulance was needed. Pretty standard piece of info that the ambo needs.

    Secondly, the family need to take some responsibility, They should have told the operator the address (whether they were asked for it or not), you never rely on a database to get things right. You always state your address - its a major no-brainer.

    As for the company, there only responsible if there systems pointed to the old address with a degree of confidence that made the operator not ask the question of what is your address. If thats the case then the entire system needs to be changed so that the question is always asked!

  37. Levi

    Re: Why didn't they say their address?

    @AC: "Why didn't they say their fucking address?"

    Read the article:

    "Sylvia Luck said she gave the family's Calgary address to the operator, but the ambulance was sent to Mississauga."

    I would hazard a guess that this is yet another case of an operator believing what was on their screen becuase "the computer said so" rather than using some actual judgment.

  38. The Wanderer


    Actually, a more interesting question might be, "what kind of call centre did the call go to?" The underlying assumption is that the operator was a highly trained 911 operator, but given that a lot of call centre operations are outsourced third party companies, and tend to cut costs wherever they can, like train their workers to multitask on as many diffrerent aspects of a client's business as possible, it's entirely possible that the next call that operator got might be from someone inquiring about their bill or wanting to cancel their account.

    I sincerely hope I'm wrong here, but it honestly woudn't surprise me if the operator's 911 training was two weeks of in-house, ad-hoc training by fellow call centre employees only slightly more experienced.

  39. skeptical i
    Black Helicopters

    shouldn't have to give address

    It is my understanding that most landline- centric 911 operations will send first responders to the address whence the call originated, since there are too often cases wherein someone is having an emergency but can not speak (e.g., intruder on premises, cardiac arrest, stroke, &c).

    How difficult would it be to have a GPS widget as part of the VOIP box so that there is some backup data available if customer has moved, if the billing address is not the customer's residence, if customer has somehow evaded all the "can not start service without verifying location" hoops, et cetera? If nothing else, it would give the provider a reasonable defense in the court of public opinion.

    This is the med-evac chopper that should have gotten the victim, RIP.

  40. Ben

    " The question is ? "

    "We need to have everyone involved in the emergency systems to cooperate in providing the right technology and we need to make sure the technology works. The question is who will pay for this infrastructure upgrade"

    Uuuuuuuuh , i think somebody just did ! ffs!

    Bit like a hangman apologising because his axe isn't quite as sharp as he'd like , shut the f*ck up with the dead corporate statement , tell the shareholders to shut the f*ck up moaning about the COST and do the job right , its an emergency service , not cable telly ......or the Royal Mail (irony)....................... sad do.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @Well a couple of things....

    That's because on cell phones, the emergency number is, for some reason, mapped to 112 instead.

  42. E


    CBC is a broadcast radio network. You know, AM/FM talk and music? Not a phone company or isp? CBC is one of the stations what broke duh story? What has drrruvuhn da story very nearly to a public inquiry? What some cunt-ries like to say is public space? Grunt, grunt grunt?

    I guess it is inevitable that your media position drops core periodically, despite the think tanks backing your shy*e, your backers are mercenaries. Still, it must burn where you took the penny.

    And of course your think tanks must be valid - by the positions they laid out (legs spread) in their position papers: screw what we pay for and what the civil law requires... if we want 911 calls or a fire department or police services then that should be value added... but I suspect your knowledge of history is as thin as your ethics.

    ... what country do you live in? I'll bet it's 1st world and western: elsewhere you'd have top contract your security. And having to do that you'd be far less of a twit. If you spouted your talk as a citizen of many countries you'd merely identify yourself as a mark - so remember what your civil society has given you. And worry about who you were paying if you were elsewhere.

  43. E
    Thumb Up


    I live in Canada. I've called 911 half a dozen times in the past six or seven years - auto collisions outside my apt tower. Every time the operator said (paraphrase):

    "What's the deal?"

    I said:

    "Auto collision"

    Operator said:

    "OK what's the address?"

    I said:

    <my address>

    Operator said:

    "Cops are on their way"

    End of call.

    In Canada an ISP - Shaw, Rogers, Bell, Telus if you buy VOIP - are not subject to the same requirements as traditional phone companies qua 911 calls.

    So you wankers can yak about get what you pay for - but the fact is in North America the number 911 means that you get the emergency services people - this is and has been ingrained in basic education for decades. I suspect that in the EU and other places the idea is the same if the number is different.

    With the traditional phone system if you dial from a location the telco could tell where you were dialing from: a function of copper wires. So your emergency call was connected to where you were.

    VOIP argueably disconnects location from IP address: but I tell you that if every e-commerce site I deal with knows that I am in Calgary (I am in fact in Calgary) then the same tech can be used to (1) locate the emergency caller, (2) at the very least flag that the Ontario address is wrong.

    What you have here pure and simple is a phone service provider that parsed the letter of the law and it's requirement under emergency services so finely, that maximized it's profit margin so carefully, that when a 911 call came it could not even tell that the call came via router path from Alberta - 3000 KM away - not Ontario.

    And I am sorry to say the regulatory regime allows this kind of thing.

    There are many posts above that blame the people that had the medical emergency. The people who wrote those posts are a**holes who, given the same situation in their life, would regret their current position.

    911 works with copper POTS. It doesn't work when we allow a regulatory regime that ignores non-colocation of terminal equipment and the copper. Yet standard routing tables could have been used to tell the operator that the call did not come from Ontario. If the ISP could not be bothered to use it's routing tables, then out could have used the many IP-to-geographical-location services. This is not the fault of the subscriber: it is the fault of the VOIP service provider and of the regulatory regime.

    The legal code says that 911 shall work as a function of providing phone services: if you sell a phone service where 911 does not work then you are a criminal, plain and simple. In this case you would be - the ISP in question is - accessory to a death.

  44. Tim Brown

    Hang on...

    Why are we blaming the voip provider?

    Surely the 911 operator should have asked the family where the hell they were. What if the family had been on a picnic - it'd be stupid to send an ambulance to their home then.

    Blame the idiot operator for not getting an address (it shouldn't matter where the hell the operator is sitting) and sending help there.

  45. un compressed


    I've been reading El Reg for a long, long time and this is the first time I have ever added a comment. (Yes, I did do the registration process specifically to add this missive).

    It's unbelievable how fundamentally depressing the comments are that followed this story; people trying to score points with their superior knowledge of telco systems and how to avoid having your child die, people blaming 'the man' (i.e. the telco) for causing the child's death, people blaming the parents, people blaming the operators - this list could run and run.

    I realise that by responding to these I run the risk of sounding as dense as the comments previous, but honestly, can't anyone apply Occam's razor and a little bit of humanity to this sad story?

  46. Bruce Sinton

    Very seldom a kind word

    I was a Volunteer Ambulance Officer for eleven years in New Zealand.

    Often what I and the others in the Service got, was abuse , insults and assaults .

    Frequently the information received over the phone about the job was quite different to what I found at the scene.

    Rarely did you get any thanks. I can remember the times I got thanked because they were so few.

    Have a go at the sharp edge of the Ambulance work and you might not be quite so quick to condemn

    I collected my coat some time ago

  47. James O'Brien
    Paris Hilton

    All I can say is. . .

    They* are screwed.

    *The VOIP company

    /Paris cause even she is confused as to how the company screwed this one up.

  48. John Parker
    Black Helicopters

    @Chris C - why is it always about *young* people in news

    I think it's because PR departments are permanently trying to appeal to the masses - so talking to people in the context of children gets people into mushy, maternal/paternal illogical mode of thinking - hence easier to deliver spin to. They get used to this, and it makes the messengers appear more maternal/paternal and less pragmatic and political too.

    We need more CCTV..... why? It will keep our children safe! Oh shit, yeah your right we definitely do need more TV, as priority #1 in the world is keeping my genetic offspring intact etc...

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Automatic Dispatch

    (posted as anon due to the work I do)

    Since April the 1st ambulances in the UK have to reach the most life threatening calls (kids, breathing trouble, chest pain) withing 8 minutes. To do this as soon as you dial 999 the address on file is sent to an ambulance and it sets off to the job. All this happens BEFORE your call is answered. Indeed if you dial and then hang up an ambulance is dispatched while the operator calls you back to see if you actually needed one.

    Now I've actually turned up at a call centre for one of these elderly help lines. Little old dear had pulled her emergency cord because she'd fallen and needed picking up. Call centre rang for an ambulance and one was sent. As it happens we were only 10 miles away from the correct address...

    Now if the caller shouts "help me, 123 high street" and then is too panicky to give any other information the operator has a hard job. How many high streets are there?

    It doesn't just happen with VoIP

    Mine's the one with the shiny stripes and the glow-in-the-dark colours.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Read it again....

    "Elijah Luck's family switched to Comwave's service three years ago, after moving to Calgary from Mississauga."

    The family SWITCHED to Comwave AFTER moving to Calgary...

    So why didn't Comwave have their Calgary address?

    Someone must have gone out to set up their connection.


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