Wifi to dialtone device for EBT readers?
December 27, 2010 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I've been approved to accept EBT payments at my farmers market. However, the free machine the state provides requires a phone line, which I do not have. I do have wifi, however! Is there an inexpensive VoIP device that provides a dial tone and lets me make *data* calls? I've seen several that have the caveat "no not use with credit card readers" which is essentially what I have.

They do make wireless hardware that use cell signals, but they are very expensive (upwards of $1000, which just seems like robbery). There are grant programs available for farmers markets to get them, but they generally give out funding in mid-spring (and my market's not a 501(c)3, which complicates things). I do have Square readers, which are fantastic, but they don't work with EBT cards. Any other solution I may have overlooked is welcome.
posted by ewagoner to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you ask around with other farmers market folks to see what they do? You can't be the only person who's wanted to do this.
posted by zachlipton at 11:29 AM on December 27, 2010

Response by poster: All of the other markets in the state accepting EBT (a very new thing here) got grants for the wireless devices. They're also all non-profits. I'm working that angle, but it may take many months. Right now, I'm the *only* market open, and there are many households that need to pay via EBT now, so I don't want to make them wait if there's another solution (assuming I can get a grant at all).
posted by ewagoner at 11:34 AM on December 27, 2010

Do not mess with anything which is a) wireless and b) handles financial data of any kind and c) is not encrypted and certified for handling said types of data. There are myriad ways that could be attacked, and you do not want to be explaining to the state why someone's EBT fund got siphoned out because you got hacked.

Might not be happening, but the easiest solution would seem to be a web site hosted by the state which allows you to enter the info via a web browser. If implemented right, this would be secure because the browser sessions would be encrypted. It would function much like e-commerce.

Is it practical or worth it to install a phone line? I'm visualizing a stall of some type which may or may not even have power hookups in an open air market.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:45 AM on December 27, 2010

Since you're the only one open, can you ask to rent or borrow one of these expensive devices from someone who already has one and is not currently using it?
posted by antonymous at 11:48 AM on December 27, 2010

The kind of compression that VOIP does in order to fit it into the bandwidth limitations wreaks havoc on a modem/fax communications signal. The card machine has similar needs for a good connection as a fax machine -- look around the internet for "fax machine voip" to see explanations and workaround. It sounds like you can set the card-reader to a very low baud or bitrate, it might be able to work with a voip box like that from Vonage.

You may need to look into a cellular base station like this, but they're not cheap either. It's also going to be more secure than credit card data over wifi, as others have mentioned.

Doesn't the free machine from the state have a ethernet jack on the back? It has been a few years since I've seen a phone-only card swipe machine; if that's the case, you can use a regular wireless access point to 'bridge' to the available wifi at your market.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

My local farmers market has an information/administrative booth where you can debit your EBT card for $X, in exchange for that amount of little wooden tokens, that you then use as cash with vendors. I wonder if it's possible to borrow/rent/use space in a nearby building for a similar purpose--to debit folks' EBT cards in exchange for locally-unique tokens, thereby centralizing the hassle, so shoppers can take their pocketful of tokens and be done with the logistical side of things?
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:02 PM on December 27, 2010

Best answer: You can theoretically run a modem over voip if you use g711u as the protocol, completely uncompressed and with echo cancellation and jitter buffer off. I've gotten payment systems to work with Linksys 2102 ATAs that way.

That said, it is very, very, very unreliable, even over a rock-solid wired internet connection and I can't even imagine trying it over wireless, if your business depends on it.
posted by empath at 12:32 PM on December 27, 2010

Response by poster: I think I could probably get a phone line out to where I am using one of these "wireless phone jack" systems. I used to use these years ago when I was on dial-up at home. Does anyone here have experience trying to get them to work with card readers?
posted by ewagoner at 1:05 PM on December 27, 2010

I too have gotten a modem to connect over Vonage, just to prove I could. Add in the instability of wireless and I doubt it will work.

Silly question: are you somewhere the phone company can run a line? The cost and reliability would be far less than any other solution. I wouldn't use one of those wireless phone line deals. A long cord would be much more reliable. If you used cat3 or cat5, or got some of the stuff they use to string lines from the pole to the house, you could probably go a really long way. Maybe you can even get them to bury a line right up to one of those little green stub termination point things at your stall.

Also: there is almost no way someone is going to get any information off of a modem off of a wireless [anything]. And its not like they can do anything with the EBT numbers. It's probably encrypted somehow anyway. There are lots of reasons not to do it that way, but identity theft is pretty low on the list.
posted by gjc at 3:44 PM on December 27, 2010

I actually work for a CLEC with presence in Athens, if you want to shoot me an memail with your location, i can see about getting phone/dsl out there.
posted by empath at 3:49 PM on December 27, 2010

Response by poster: Like many farmers markets, I'm set up in a parking lot. Getting a dedicated phone line to the lot is out of the question. I'm near enough to a friendly business that I can run an extension cord out to our pay station. It's possible I could also run a very long phone cord off their line, but that's be a hassle. The extenders are looking like the best option (if they work), since I could just plug my end into the extension cord and get a dial tone. I'll try a practice run of that this week, unless a better solution comes up.
posted by ewagoner at 4:05 PM on December 27, 2010

Is an internet connection available? If so, where is it in relation to your pay station and what kind is it? Also, what's the manufacturer/model information on the free machine you have? Does it have an ethernet port or just a phone jack?
posted by zachlipton at 9:21 PM on December 27, 2010

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