AT&T suspends parental blocking feature on wireless service

Problems found when E911 operator returns a call

In order to ensure full use of emergency 911 services, AT&T Inc.'s wireless division has suspended a feature in a popular parental control program launched early this month.

The Smart Limits plan, launched Sept. 4, allows parents to block calls to and from a wireless phone at times they designate. The purpose is to prevent kids from talking on their phones during school hours, for example, a spokesman said today.

During hours when calls are blocked, a child could still make an E911 call. But AT&T found that if the child makes the call and is disconnected for some reason, the E911 operator would be blocked from calling back.

AT&T has "no indication" that an E911 operator ever was blocked in making a return call, and it found the problem in its own evaluations of the service, said spokesman Mark Siegel.

The program costs $4.99 a month, and AT&T apologized for the problem and is crediting customers with whatever amount of money they have spent on the program thus far, he said. The parental control features for blocking calls at certain times are suspended, but parents can still use the Smart Limits program to restrict Internet browsing and prevent purchases of downloads, he said. Also, E911 calls will still be possible at any time.

Siegel said the program had proved very popular after the launch, and the blocked-call feature will be restored once AT&T creates a work-around to avoid the E911 problem. "We thought we'd put safety first and temporarily suspend Smart Limits until this is resolved," he said. "We apologize and think this is absolutely the right thing to do. We will relaunch it as soon as possible. People want it back as soon as possible."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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