Don’t cut that cord!

SSN Staff  - 
Thursday, January 1, 2004

New phone rules could affect alarms
WASHINGTON - A Nov. 25 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission made it possible for consumers to transfer their cell phone numbers from carrier to carrier and also allows them to transfer their land-line phone numbers to cell phones.

What many alarm customers may not realize is that doing so could effectively cut the cord between their alarm system and the monitoring company, since most systems rely on that phone line to transfer signals.

At press time, there were no solid numbers on how many customers might be affected or what the potential monetary effect on the industry would be.

Both the Central Station Alarm Association and the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association were proactive in reacting to the FCC ruling. The CSAA issued a statement to its members urging them to make their customers aware that abandoning a phone line on which an alarm service is connected will curtail that service. CSAA Executive Vice President Steve Doyle encouraged monitoring companies in their next billing statement to “enclose a noticeable warning to their customers advising them to contact the alarm company before making any such changes.”

The NBFAA issued a similar warning to its members, adding that “while cellular, radio frequency and broadband systems are available, these systems have been used primarily as backup communications for electronic life safety and security systems.”

Bart Didden, president of U.S.A. Central Station Alarm Corp., said his company has not had any of its monitored accounts affected by a customer’s decision to transfer his or her home phone number to a cell phone.

“We don’t know of any yet, but I am sure it won’t be long,” he said.

U.S.A. Central’s director of corporate operations, Roberta Diffey, said a few customers have called to ask what would happen if they canceled their home service and that the company has made those customers aware of the possible ramifications.

“We tell them they need their land lines in order for their alarm systems to send signals,” she said. “If they cancel their land lines in favor of their cell service, they will be made aware that there is a problem the first time their system tries to send a signal.

“Portability hasn’t caused us any problems, only a few extra questions,” she added.

Didden said there are two alternatives to using land lines for alarm signal transmission, both centered around Honeywell’s AlarmNet offerings.

“While many people are expected to transfer their phone number, many people have cable modems because they won’t give up their broadband, so AlarmNet-I would be the answer,” he said.

While there are other manufacturers who have developed Internet transmitters, Didden said, there are no standards for interoperability between different companies’ offerings.

“I just wish they would all standardize so central stations don’t need a separate receiver for each transmitter type,” he said.

As for radio frequency systems, Diffey said savvy dealers and who recognize the effects of these new rules could benefit from making their customers aware of alternatives to land lines.

“I would not be surprised to see some installing companies begin to market an RF service to those who do not want land lines,” she said. “It could be a niche market.”