Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP phone systems are rapidly becoming the standard in business phone systems. They’re portable, scalable, cost-efficient, and include an array of useful features. But businesses aren’t the only entities choosing VoIP. Many local governments are changing to VoIP as older phone systems approach the end of their life cycles.
One of the most vocal proponents of replacing plain old telephone service (POTS) systems with VoIP might surprise you: AT&T. Earlier in 2012, AT&T petitioned the Federal Communications Commission, urging a “National Broadband Plan” that involves shifting to VoIP for government phone systems. Calling older technology “unsustainable for the long run,” AT&T wants the FCC to ditch regulatory requirements that prolong the life of pre-VoIP phone services.
Though the federal government has been slower to adopt the new technology, local governments worldwide have embraced VoIP. In 2006 the government of Taipei, Taiwan installed what was then the world’s largest VoIP system and saved around $7,000 the first month it was in operation. VoIP is catching on with local governments in the U.S. as well. Here are 5 examples.
1. South Bend, Michigan
South Bend spent around $1 million on a VoIP system in February 2012, with debt that will be repaid over five years. Currently, the city is paying about the same per month for phone service as it was pre-VoIP. After five years, however, the city expects to save up to $240,000 per year.
South Bend systems specialist Keith Crain told The South Bend Tribune, “The service has been outstanding. I think the voice quality is better than what we had under our old system.”
2. Sandy, Oregon
SandyNet, a municipal plan offering broadband internet services, rapidly became an important city asset in Sandy, Oregon, providing ISP for city operations and the Sandy Fire District. The city’s Operations Center began using a VoIP phone system as part of its Telecommunications Master Plan, with the ultimate goal of extending VoIP to City Hall, the library, the police station, and community center. VoIP is expected to produce extensive savings over the $19,000 per year the city had been spending on these systems.
3. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln, Nebraska wanted to reduce telecommunications costs for its city and county governments, and the obvious means to do that was switching to VoIP. Government officials also believe that a VoIP system will increase communication quality for local government employees. Steve Henderson, CIO for Lincoln and Lancaster County, is quoted in a press release for NACR (North American Communications Resource): “First, we believe that over time we will realize a significant cost savings compared with our current approach, and second, we believe we’ll see significant productivity gains by virtue of the many features and capabilities available within the new system.”
4. St. Louis Park, Minnesota
In 2011, St. Louis Park, Minnesota converted its telecommunications infrastructure to VoIP due to cost savings and better functionality. The move paid off that summer when a construction crew accidentally severed some fiber optic cables in the city, temporarily cutting off emergency calls. Because of the VoIP system, the city was able to reroute phone traffic through nearby Minnetonka with only a half-hour lapse of service. Public safety officer Lt. Lori Dreier told GovTech.com, “That’s fantastic for an unplanned event.”
5. Spartanburg County, South Carolina
VoIP technology has allowed Spartanburg County’s Communications / 911 Department to use a laptop as a virtual 911 system from any location with internet access. The county’s VoIP system is not only portable, but easily expandable. Because the county’s new system can support up to 300 users, and Spartanburg County only needs 20, they have explored hosting smaller communications departments from smaller, neighboring counties with limited revenues. Deputy Communications Director Keith Lee told GovTech.com, “We have the ability to host that other county’s entire operations because of this IP-based solution.”
Besides cost savings, VoIP systems give local emergency services a huge advantage should they have to cope with natural disaster because a VoIP system can quickly shift calls to an alternate location, potentially saving lives as well as money.
Photo Credit: Phil Roeder