October 24, 2008

Why did I Decline to Join Freedom2Connect Facebook Group?

Earlier in the afternoon I received an invitation from a good friend of mine, Carl Ford, to join a Facebook group called “Freedom2Connect”. In his invitation, Carl asked to “Come help protect VoIP from retroactive regulatory models”. I declined to join the group. Facebook did not give me an opportunity to explain why I declined. (Irony, isn’t it? No freedom to connect.) This note is a public explanation.

First let me declare that I am a believer of using Internet connectivity for communications, what Jeff Pulver has at various times called IP Communications. Some of you may know that I have heavily invested both financially and personally in developing this technology. (Indeed my family members continuously have indicated that these investments are beyond my means.) So my rejection of the invitation is not because I favor PSTN or that I benefit from the continuing dominance of PSTN.

If you take a look at the petition by Embarq that FCC is poised to consider, it is clear that Embarq is focused only on those instances when a call is offered at an PSTN interconnection point. According to the petition, the current practice seems to be for some interconnect carriers to declare that a call originated as VoIP and so claim exemption from settlement charges. I am not trained in legal matters. So it could be perfectly valid to make such a claim. But as a layman, it doesn’t seem to be fair. As a cynic I wonder how does one prove or disprove the validity of the claim of origin. With my bias, I conclude that such claims are purely for arbitrage purposes.

As a society we may conclude to give an advantage to new technologies in the hope that we all could benefit from new services, features or capabilities. But alas. Most of the VoIP providers are content in replicating the services and features available in PSTN. Most of them provide an ATA to their subscribers which basically functions as a Class 5 switch in PSTN and users connect an ordinary phone to this box. In other words, even though the providers have a sophisticated signaling link to the subscriber, they do not make that available to the end user. We were told that with VoIP users can know the “presence” information of each other; we were told that with VoIP I can inform you the subject of my call even before you decide to answer the call; we were dazzled with many such features. Where are they? Why do we need to extend our support when there is no evidence that promised items are being even worked on.

Long time back it was claimed that VoIP is a product and not a service. I firmly believe in that. Given that belief, why would I support service providers? This is not my fight. I do not wish them ill. I just do not care. As far as I am concerned it is an intramural tussle. The product I am developing will be able to interconnect to PSTN. But the primary value of the product is the better user experience and feature set. If these are the reasons users decide to use my product then they will not mind if the interconnect charges are the same as if they used PSTN altogether. In other words, my focus is at the End and the issue FCC is considering is in the Middle. Anybody focused on IP Communications should not be distracted with non-relevant Middle.

Posted by aswath at 05:32 PM | Comments (1)

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