updated 3/22/2005 5:53:10 PM ET 2005-03-22T22:53:10

Texas sued the nation’s largest Internet-based phone service provider Tuesday, saying Vonage failed to clearly inform customers they cannot automatically dial 911 when they sign up.

The lawsuit follows a case last month in which a 17-year-old Houston girl was unable to call 911 on her family’s Vonage service during an armed robbery in which her parents were shot and wounded. The girl ran to a neighbor’s house and called for help.

“People find out too late that this service might not be available,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “No one who signs up for this service will get the same kind of 911 service they get with a regular land line. Vonage needs to be clear up front about that and not mislead their consumers about the quality of service.”

The lawsuit was filed under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and seeks to require Vonage Holdings Corp. to more clearly inform consumers that they must separately sign up for the 911 feature.

The lawsuit also seeks $20,000 per violation. Abbott said he didn’t know how many violations there would be. Edison, N.J.-based Vonage has more than 500,000 subscribers.

Abbott said information about the type of emergency service Vonage offers is found only in the fine print on the Web site.

Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz said customers are informed of the separate activation on two pages on the Internet registration form. She also said that e-mail notifications are sent to customers who fail to activate the emergency service.

“We’re at a loss as to what they want us to change, but we’re open to any changes they want,” Schulz said.

Abbott said that Vonage never addresses the 911 shortcomings in its television commercials or brochures and that customers who sign up through their call centers are never told they have to sign up for 911 service.

“They did not tell me I did not have 911 access,” said Peter John, who was shot in the home invasion. “I had no idea.”

A users guide that was included with the phone addressed the need to activate 911.

“You shouldn’t have to read through 100 pages to figure out that you don’t have 911 access,” Abbott said.

Abbott wants Vonage to include that information on their advertising and include a checkoff requirement to ensure people are aware of the lack of traditional 911 service.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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