Dont Punish VOIP—or Its Users

Opinion: The FCC and the Bells will have their way with voice over IP, regardless of our desire to pay less-and get what we pay for.

I didnt switch to voice over IP at home because it was better. I went to VOIP because it was cheap. What is it about that equation that the FCC bureaucrats cant fathom? Is it so complicated that hand-wringing columnists and legislators who cant spell "IP" just dont get it?

VOIP service is barely OK. It is marginally better than a military field phone. I can tell when the anti-virus software on my PC is updating in the middle of a phone call. It doesnt work when the power goes out. It sometimes doesnt work when the power comes back on.

Oh, and just between you and me and anyone who has ever been near a VOIP service agreement, you cannot—I repeat, cannot—use it like a POTS line to call 911. It doesnt know where you are. Its the Internet, dummy.

What does it cost to buy my acceptance of such transgressions? Sadly, a mere $24.99 a month. As with my boat and my motorcycle and anything Ive ever bought at Wal-Mart, I got what I paid for. The less I pay, the crappier the stuff, and, more often than not, the happier I am.

The next time I need to call somebody during a power outage will be the first time. Im usually too busy looking for candles.

Accepting VOIP with all its rough edges was made easier by two decades of passable cellular technology.

Cell phones so degraded my expectation of what a phone call should sound like that Im now willing to accept the clicks and buzzes and echoes and dropouts on VOIP.

My grandfather would never have stood for the sound quality most of us now find routine when we talk on any phone. Ah, progress.

But now government agents want to take away my cheap, crappy phone service. The reason, they claim, is because Ive been left in grave danger by unscrupulous VOIP vendors that are denying me full access to 911.

Forget about the fact that I agreed to VOIPs method of routing 911 calls at least a dozen times during the sign-up process.

You can even forget that a snippy Verizon rep berated me for canceling my land lines with the warning that Id be cooked in an emergency.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about Vonage and Verizons efforts to improve access to 911 emergency services.

"Yeah, but $24.99 a month!" I shouted.

"Its your call," the rep said.

The bottom line is, I dont care. And neither do most VOIP users if my e-mail and the Internet forums are any indication. Everybody knows what VOIP is and what it isnt. Still, the FCC now says VOIP service providers must solve the 911 location problem for the lowest common denominator of VOIP users.

Its the telephonic equivalent of seat-belts-plus-air-bags regulations. You know what came of those? Air bags that kill you if you arent wearing a seat belt.

Now we have to make VOIP something it was never intended to be: a replacement for land lines for parents of young children and guardians of the frail elderly.

I dont for a second believe that Kevin Martin and his gang at the FCC care as much about my safety as they do about appeasing the traditional phone carriers that have been sweating over VOIP since its inception. The same carriers that refused to sell local land-line access to VOIP providers to facilitate a 911 solution two years ago are now wielding all the clout in this fight.

If the FCC really just wanted to keep us safe, why couldnt it have pushed the Bells to make certain that all canceled land-line jacks still support 911 calls?

They can do that, you know, and, in some places, they do. I could have a hot-line phone in my house for emergencies only, courtesy of Verizon.

Id buy a red phone and put it under a cake dish. Alas, Verizon left me with DC power but no dial tone.

I have no doubt an answer will be found that saves VOIP in some fashion. The service will be dumbed down. Itll lose its portability features. It will probably be more expensive, but its not going away. The Bells will get a piece of the action, which is all they ever wanted.

Still, I wish the government would concern itself less with the business model of the Bells and extend to me my right to get exactly what I pay for, especially when Im not paying that much.

Executive Editor of News Chris Gonsalves can be reached at

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