Sunday, May 15, 2005

These days "voice" really is just another "application"

Jeff Pulver - The Jeff Pulver Blog

These days "voice" really is just another "application" (at least technologically if not regulatorily) and the face of the worldwide communications marketplace is much different than just a few years ago. In fact, it was back in May, 2003, where I first spoke about the Rise of the Broadband Parasites and its power to transform the ways in which we communicate and dramatically increase the value and capabilities of the network.

It was also way back in the Summer of 2003, when one of my more (then seemingly) paranoid friends warned me that there were people in DC who would start to come forward and do everything in their collective power to prevent the success of the "Broadband Parasites" and the so-called "free-riders." (As I've indicated in numerous previous blog entries, VoIP ASPs should not be considered "free-riders". Unlike the POTS resellers, the VoIP ASPs are dramatically increasingly the capabilities and value of telecom networks for consumers, for carriers and for vendors.) In any case, my paranoid friends went so far as to say that end-to-end IP would never be allowed to freely happen. Frankly, I dismissed their concerns as paranoid delusions. Why would anyone want to stifle the improvements that Moore's Law and IP-technology would bring? I, instead, believed that end-to-end IP was inevitable and that, while the face of the communications industry was going to be changed forever, it would be understood that there would be a list of winners and losers and those who ignored technology innovations would be cast as the losers . . . or so I thought.

My friend's conspiracy theory highlighted three parallel activities: numbering; lawful intercept (CALEA); and emergency response (9-1-1). My friend suggested that, at the calculated moment, certain powerful forces from inside-the-Beltway would take action and put an incredible amount of pressure on government and industry to apply legacy thinking to kill innovative technology. I believe that, so far, we have, more or less, adequately kept at bay both the numbering and lawful intercept issues (although I am convinced these issues wait in the wings to further devastate IP-based communications advances). The E911 for VoIP issue has become the most obvious, very sore touch point and rallying cry to do in IP-based innovators under the guise of public safety. And, frankly, if they don't kill us with the E911 red herring bullet, the second and third bullets (numbering and lawful intercept concerns) wait in the chamber of their gun.

In fact, now that E911 for VoIP is on the agenda for the next FCC meeting, and if reports are true and the FCC will mandate that all two-way connected Voice over Broadband service providers in the US need to also provide E911 services (even for nomadic services), without making a parallel and equal demand on the LECs to ensure local access to the PSAPs and an explicit prohibition against port blocking, such a ruling could have the one-sided effect of removing the unaffiliated Voice over Broadband service providers from the marketplace and so will begin the era of the "death of the local VoBB service provider." While I guess, in some ways, this may be good for the incumbent who is seeing increasing price pressure on a daily basis, it is the consumer who ends up losing, and losing big. Once the competition goes away, prices will bounce back up and service offerings will devolve.

Instead of focusing on the US marketplace, my friends, the voice over broadband entrepreneurs, may instead decide to focus their business activities in countries that have a more forward looking IP-based communications strategy.

Strange as how it sounds, even Canada looks to be a more fertile ground for continued technology innovation than the US, if E911 becomes mandated for VoIP, including nomadic VoIP offerings. If VoIP was the first great driver of broadband, I fear that America will drop even further down the ranks of the countries in broadband penetration and that will further sink the US economy for many decades to come.

Unless something was totally misunderstood with regards to the FCC immediate intentions, 2005 may go down in history as the time we saw both the rise and fall of the unaffiliated VoIP service provider.

Then again, the pending FCC rulemaking may finally be the shot in the arm the VoIP entrepreneurs need to come forward with communication services that are not using VoIP as simple replacement or substitute services, but rather use IP technology to begat the launch of new suites of communication services -- something much truer to the vision of what an IP-enabled platform promises and not just copycat products or services. At least one can dream. I, however, fear that the FCC E911 Order will be too broad and suck within its regulatory black hole many of the current and here-to-for unimagined innovative services that do not intend to serve as mere replacement services for traditional voice telephony.

. . . and, boy, do we live in interesting times.


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