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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Mossberg Likes VoIP
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Well, everybody's having their say about VoIP. (BTW, if you want to act like you are "in the know" then you pronounce it "V-OY-EEP", rather than "Vee-Oh-Eye-Pee". One day about two months ago, without any warning, those of us in the know switched pronunciations, probably for metaphysical reasons.)

Anyway you say VoIP, everyone is talking about it. In today's Personal Technology column in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg, under the headline "Vonage Makes Phoning Through the Internet Convenient and Cheap," writes: "If you're sick of your local or long-distance phone company, you now have an alternative: Internet phone calling." What's all this crazy talk about local phone competition?

Mossberg reviews the features and pricing that makes Vonage's offering attractive. But for anyone having difficulty understanding why "V-OY-EEP" services like Vonage's are interstate services that should be (and must be) effectively free from state economic regulation, consider the following from Mossberg's column:

[I]f you don't want to keep your current phone number, you can choose a new one, free of charge, from nearly any area code in the country. So, you could be in Des Moines, but have a New York City phone number. And you can move your adapter box to another location, even overseas, and plug it into a phone and a broadband Internet connection. You will still be covered by your same rate plan, and will still appear to be calling from your own phone number at home. Plus, Vonage offers "virtual phone numbers" for an additional $5 a month each. These extra numbers can have different area codes, but will ring on your regular phone. So, if you lived in Boston and your mother lived in San Francisco, you could add a virtual San Francisco number and when your mother called you, it'd be a local call.

What's a PUC to do? Get restraining orders to prevent Vonage's customers from moving their adapter boxes across state lines? Maybe there will be a new crime: Transporting a Vonage adapter box accross state lines with intent to continue making cheap phone calls. May get you up to a year in the state penitentiary.

Sooner or later, there will have to be a recognition that, in today's competitive environment, it's time for a new deregulatory telecom paradigm that will be applicable to all service providers, and one that is not dependent on VoIP Metaphysics. Sooner is better.

posted by Randolph May @ 3:02 PM | General

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