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How VoIP Providers Get Numbers In Your Area

Friday, April 25, 2008

One of the advantages of using a voice over IP telephony provider such as voip.com is that you can get local numbers outside of your local area. In other words, if you live in San Francisco, you can get a local number on New York. Or Seattle. In fact, you can even have more than one number assigned to you, and they all ring the same telephone. Neat, eh?

You might wonder how an internet telephony service provider like voip.com manages to get local telephone numbers in your area. It boils down to two options: be (or become) a local exchange carrier (LEC), or partner with someone who is.

A LEC is someone who is capable of providing you local telephony service. There are two classes of LEC: the "incumbent" LEC (ILEC) and the "competitive" LEC (CLEC). ILECs are companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest that are the dominant provider of traditional telephony with a specific area. CLECs are companies like Covad, XO, Level 3, and others that can also provide you local telephony service. Your local cable company, assuming they offer telephony services, might be a CLEC also.

This might raise the question: are internet telephony providers like voip.com CLECs? Generally not. You must apply to the various state regulatory agencies in order to become a CLEC.

Most internet telephony service providers get their telephone numbers from CLECs that sell services to VoIP providers. Because not all CLECs offer services in all areas, multiple providers are often used. There are also companies like Voxbone and DIDX that give you access to a wide range of telephone numbers.

There are some exchanges where it is simply not possible to get a local telephone number for an Internet telephony service provider. This is because there is no LEC that is willing to sell service. Note that in these cases, it is often possible to get a number in a neighboring exchange. For example, when I lived in Port Orchard, WA, some VoIP providers couldn't give me a number in Port Orchard, but could give me one in nearby Bremerton or Silverdale.

Of course, if you can't get a local number where you live, or even if you can, you can always opt for a local number someplace else. Unlike your local exchange carrier, telephone numbers aren't bound to your location.