As a resident of San Diego we were asked to stay off our cell phones
as much as possible to allow access by emergency personnel fighting
the wild fires. That's certainly a reasonable request considering the
abnormally high cellular traffic and the need for emergency personnel
to coordinate their rescue efforts.
But with few exceptions the cellular carriers have prevented cell
phones from being used to make VOIP calls using a WiFi connection to
the Internet. They've done it by removing, disabling or not including
WiFi in the phone models they sell and by preventing VOIP software
from working on their phones.
In dangerous situations like the California wild fires that decision
eliminates another channel of communications that could be used to
help save lives. If our phones had VOIP we'd be able to communicate
over the Internet, freeing up capacity on the cellular networks.
It's great that many of the cellular companies are offering relief to
the evacuees with deferred billing, free calls and discounted
services. But if you really want to help us in San Diego and
elsewhere where emergencies may occur, don't prevent us from using
VOIP on our phones. This is a situation in which your decisions
motivated by profit put lives at risk.