Who Me, a Phone
Service?"> The VOIP providers, starting with Vonages Jeff Pulver, didnt help by initially claiming that they werent a telephone service but an information service. Yes, VOIP flows over data lines until it has to hop off the network. Yes, there are data-driven aspects to the call logs and call-routing options that come with VOIP, and more integrated data applications to follow. Yes, VOIP is getting all integrated with instant messaging. For now, however, and for most users, VOIP telephony looks, feels, sounds and smells like what you get from telcos. Indeed, thats exactly what VOIP providers advertise to prospective customers, with rates that steeply undercut the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) telcos on the consumer and small-business side.By speaking so audibly out of two sides of its mouth, the VOIP community only invited skepticism among the legislative bodies that it needs to persuade and educate. (Of course, with $20 billion in access charges and universal service fees at stake as VOIP wins away business, the states are quite predisposed to skepticism.) Equally problematic, the VOIP community appears to be letting the media misrepresent it on the issue of social obligations. Many, if not most, VOIP service providers do pay into the Universal Service Fund indirectly, with payment for the lines they lease to attach their networks and gateway out to the PSTN. Talley has expressed a willingness to pay universal service subsidies if that money goes not to his PSTN competition but to pay for the universal access to broadband. The VON Coalition also has acknowledged the need for 911 solutionsand many of its members have implemented them. "We think its so important that we entered into an agreement last December with the National Emergency Numbering Association [NENA] to work on enabling that," says Jim Kohlenberger, a VON Coalition spokesman. As for wiretapping, the coalition has publicly come out against applying CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act Extending) to VOIP, as it specifies the design requirements of telephone wiretaps. It claims that such specific deployments will be very hard to technically implement over IP, where the network is more amorphous. But the coalition also claims that service providers are already required to cooperate with court wiretap orders when they receive them, and that they do. It further points out that other Internet communicationse-mail and IMhave not come under similar requirements. Click here to read about a recent wiretap ruling that could mean the end of e-mail privacy. "We understand that there may be some 911 and social policy areas that need to be addressed," Talley says, "but what you cant subject us to is legislation and governance in 50 different jurisdictions that may not have the ability to properly govern us. You could come into some huge constitutional issues." Someone who resides in one state and has a phone line in another, he says, could be doubly taxed. "The other issue is, what if [one of those states] says its illegal to use VOIP? Who controls?" If VOIP vendors dont start doing a better job managing their message, the answer to that question wont be one they want. Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at http://voip.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.
Click here to read about a calling plan from Primus that sets a new VOIP price floor.