Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Shut up and take your medicine"

Jeff Pulver - The Jeff Pulver Blog

Sometimes when I write a blog, I wonder if anyone takes notice. It seems I did hit a nerve with a couple of my recent entries on the FCC's likely action with regard to imposing E911 obligations on the VoIP industry. It's almost as if some folks think I have come out against apple pie and motherhood. Speaking truth to power and demonstrating flaws in an overreaching plan can be a lonely place and is always a delicate act, particularly in a blog format which, for me, is a presentation of initial impressions with the goal to prompt deeper thought and dialogue.
I, by no means, intend to belittle the noble goals behind a ubiquitous E911 solution, just the method by which the regulators intend to drive us there. I am convinced that IP technology will vastly improve emergency response capabilities. I've apparently got to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that I want the best possible emergency response capabilities to become available to all Americans -- all the world -- as soon as possible. I, however, do not want to see E911 used as an immediate tool to bring down the emerging industry, particularly the most vulnerable start-ups without the deep-pockets, resources, and political connections.
It's been suggested that I hold my tongue, get in line, sit back and relax, accept whatever medicine the regulators dish out and assume that father knows best. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, I guess -- let the FCC dictate unviable E911 solutions without much sense for current industry efforts and technological capabilities. After all, what do we, the industry pioneers and innovators, know? Let a few cloistered bureaucrats cave to public outrage and political pressure. Don't worry, it will all work out in the end. Just cross your fingers, hold your breath, bite your tongue, close your eyes and try to catch the Hail Mary pass.
Well, I don't think it necessarily will all work out in the end and, if we're quiet now, we may be quiet forever (if you get my drift). And I don't think the bureaucrats know best at this point. They certainly don't seem to have consulted with the industry enough (at least, not the innovators and entrepreneurs pushing the limits of IP technology) to know what is viable. (Perhaps the regulators have tapped the knowledge of some more entrenched players -- the LECs and the cablecos who are primarily using IP technology to offer more economic versions of traditional telephony, without an eye towards much differentiation or enhancement.)
What seems most bizarre to me is that the regulators don't even seem willing to give the unaffiliated VoIP providers the minimum set of tools necessary to accomplish their objective for a guaranteed nationwide E911 network that would allow anyone, anywhere to pick up any device, dial 911 and have an emergency responder find that caller. If regulators tell the industry to provide nationwide E911 for nomadic VoIP services, without simultaneously compelling fair access to selective routers and prohibiting port blocking, how can they expect us to accomplish their mission? Make excessive demands on the never-before-regulated and most-vulnerable new start-ups, but don't dare impose any access obligation on the traditionally regulated entities, the only ones with the essential infrastructure? I don't get it.
I have had much internal debate over how to approach what we believe the FCC is doing to the industry this week, and, frankly, I felt compelled to speak up, aware of the potential political consequences. I have deep concerns that the FCC is going to drastically overreach (like swatting a fly with a nuclear bomb) and bring down the VoIP industry (particularly the smaller start-ups without the resources to develop a nationwide solution) in the process. Extending immediate E911 obligations on the smallest, most-vulnerable, but most innovative IP-based communications providers does no one any good (except for providing a quick political soundbite). In the end, such actions might mean that no one will ever see the emergency response capabilities that IP-based communications working cooperatively with NENA could have produced.
I'm reminded of the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" when the young George Bailey tells the overwrought pharmacist that he just mixed poison into the prescription. In the bizarro world in which we live, the young George Bailey is supposed to keep his mouth shut and let the pharmacist kill the patient.
Most in the VoIP industry are trying to take their "medicine" -- saying "yes sir, may I have another" as the regulators begin to regulate the life out of us and turn IP into just another technology to deliver traditional fixed-line telephony. I feel a little like I'm the only one telling the pharmacist not to give arsenic to the patient with a virus. Sure the arsenic will kill the virus, but it will also kill the patient in the process. Sometimes it's important to speak up, consequences be damned.
If the FCC thinks that it should micromanage E911 solutions or simply give a blanket mandate for ubiquitous E911 compliance in 129 days, I've got a better regulatory model that America might want to consider going forward -- how about a closely regulated monopoly? Oh, that's right, we tried that and got 100 years of no innovation and no service differentiation.
Finally, while I don't relish ad hominen attacks without any substantive support, I do sincerely welcome honest, thoughtful input on my blogs. My blogs are often just my candid initial impressions on issues, and an effort to inform or to inspire debate and sometimes outrage. I just hope that the discussion can be on the merits of the issues.


Blogger Jeff james said...

Hello, nice stuff on your site. I need to spend more time on my site about VOIP and other dla firm voip stuff. Thanks for some ideas.

7:58 AM  

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