In This Month's Mailbag:
IP Calling Conundrum
In response to Laura Guevin's May 19 online Points of Presence column
1291: A Storm Is Brewing In The IP Cloud:"
Your assertion that Internet telephony is largely free and, therefore,
more accessible to the poor than standard long-distance service ignores a
very important point.
How are the poor going to gain access to Internet telephony in the first
place? They have to obtain a PC, probably on a payment plan if they have
credit. The cost per month of gaining access to Internet telephony is higher
than (about double) the typical long-distance bill. The poor in our country
cannot consider this an alternative to long-distance yet. Not until this
hurdle is cleared.
In a sense, the FCC has subsidized a budding industry, albeit
unintentionally, by not applying the universal service charge (USC) to the
Internet telephony providers. If I were a traditional carrier, I would argue
that this practice unfairly impedes competition and would exercise whatever
political muscle I had to ensure all carriers are subject to the same taxes.
Thank you for the opportunity to express my views on this complex
-- James Walker
Laura Guevin responds:
Thanks for your comments James, and you make a very valid point. But the
universal service charge is also meant to protect rural phone service
subscribers, and those people with limited local calling areas would surely
benefit greatly from free PC calling. As for the poor, you're correct --
financing a PC with multimedia capability is not a better choice. But being
able to use their existing phones to place calls over IP would certainly be
a savings over the PSTN.
I see that the issue is arcane, but something we might need to watch.
There seems to be a need for our industry to be an active lobbyist on the
matter. The concern not raised is that the access service providers (cable,
RBOC, cell phone [wireless], etc.) stand between the user and the ISP. The
user has already paid all service charges before accessing the ISP. The
quandary is that the carriers now are trying to charge for content (what
sorts of signals run over the already purchased carrier media) as if the
carrier were a value-added reseller. The ISP pays for local carrier access,
just the way the user does, otherwise the user could not contact the ISP.
The connections are paid for, end to end, using the FCC model from 1934.
The carriers, unable to charge fees for content directly, are trying to
say that the ISP is a carrier also and thus in need of regulation. The ploy
is to distinguish content by end devices employed. Thus modem to modem would
become digital, which it is not now. In Europe (notably, Germany) calls are
monitored for content, and different fees apply for digital calls than the
fees applied for voice calls. The local U.S. carriers are experiencing penis
The FCC will probably want to split hairs on when a VoIP communication
becomes a "telephone call." The truth is, carrier connectivity to,
and from, the ISP is the only "telephone call" involved.
The ISP can currently complete a telephone connection to a user from the
Internet in the sense that a user phone could accept a modem call, which
originates from the net. The ISP has paid for the carrier access, and has
the right to use it. This currently also means voice too. The ISP converts
digital data to voice and sends the voice over a "paid for"
carrier connection. The user calls the ISP over a "paid for"
carrier connection if the user initiates a VoIP call through the ISP. At no
point does the ISP provide or perform carrier circuit switching. VoIP
connections are virtual (connectionless), not "nailed up," i.e.
not fixed connection oriented. Carriers provide connections between the user
and the ISP, which the ISP requires to provide various connectionless
services to the user.
The ridiculous carrier argument has an analogy: The major transportation
carriers want rental cars regulated as inter/intrastate transportation
companies rather than vehicle rental companies. If we do not refute this
specious argument, convincingly, we may all need to start learning to speak
German so we can read up on the kinds of laws we will be getting.
PS: The local carriers get a fee from long-distance carriers when they
"complete" a call. In some cases the local phone company charges
for long-distance calls that are virtually local, i.e. in the same Local
Area Transport Area (LATA -- see the white pages of your telephone book for
your LATA). There is an exception: A local phone company, next to another
local phone company in the same LATA and also within the non-measured toll
range, waives these fees because they start and end in the local area. The
waiver of fee is because it would cause too much bookkeeping and financially
would be a wash. And of course, we have all heard of the
"Spanish-American War Temporary Tax" that Congress has just
realized we do not need anymore, so it will be phased out over several
However, the local carriers also get a special monthly fee, possibly
being phased out, that we all pay for "long-distance access." I
have no doubt that most of the "arcane" carrier arguments over
these matters at the FCC are based on keeping and enhancing these carrier
revenue streams intended to support the legacy communications structure.
-- Mike Winthrop
Seeking Fax Advice
I'm trying to find a fax-over-IP service that is analogous to VoIP
services offered by companies like Net2Phone and deltathree.com.
We send between 1,5002,000 individual faxes during the first week of
each calendar quarter to advertise seminars. This adds about $300 to the
local and long-distance telephone bills, and requires about 18 hours to
complete between dialing and transmitting.
Is there a product/service where we can send multiple faxes over an open
Internet connection and have them received as regular (non-IP) faxes, and
use a contact manager and fax software to manage and automate the process?
-- Jeff Levitt
Director of Research, Stanton Chase International
We invite readers to send their input and advice to email@example.com.
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