Piddling with VoIP

Thanks to legislation passed mid-2006 that not only imposed that VoIP providers that connect to the PSTN must contribute to the USF (which is fair) but required that their contribution be disproportionately higher than either the current POTS or cell providers (completely bogus), patent lawsuits filed by Sprint and Verizon back in 2007, and despite a patent-workaround, my Vonage bill has gone from $17 a month to $23.50 in a matter of three years. Still a deal over regular land lines, but Vonage is no longer the deal that it once was.

I’ve been toying around with Ekiga, an open-source softphone application and free service to make PC-to-PC VoIP calls, and Diamondcard, a service that allows you to make and optionally receive calls to/from the PSTN. All of this revolves around the open SIP standard, which means you don’t have to use Ekiga nor Diamondcard if you prefer something else. (Unlike Skype and Vonage, who lock down their hardware, software, and protocols to varying degrees.)

I’m in the process (day 3 out of a possible 10) of getting a PSTN number (at the cost of $2 – $3 a month), so I haven’t been able to test incoming calls. But I’ve made a few outgoing calls and the quality has been as expected. The eventual plan will be to give Vonage the boot, and cutting my phone bill in half.

It’s made me sick watching these (government-granted) monopolies get away with nailing Vonage to the ground. You can blame maintenance of the lines/towers and uncollected bills all you want, they get taxpayer dollars to help with that maintenance and I can’t imagine the sum cost of 90-days-past-due never-collected-on service being all that great. But here we are in the New World Order, where the established players can abuse the patent system and lobby the everliving hell out of congress to keep the threat of new business out.

Am I cutting off Vonage’s nose to spite Sprint’s and Verizon’s faces? Yes, but Vonage was already holding the blade up to its own nose. Vonage could have stuck to standard equipment and standard protocols and probably gained the backing of the open source community. It’s amazing what open-source supporters will do (and have done) in the name of upholding open standards. But by viewing standards compliance as a risk to customer retention and profit and going down the proprietary lock-down path, Vonage isolated itself and ended up putting my money exactly where I didn’t want it to go.

Am I doing exactly what Sprint and Verizon want, which is to put the screws to Vonage? Vonage was an easy target in the larger VoIP picture. See aforementioned isolation. What is becoming evident in this day and age of an abused US patent system is that companies like Sprint and Verizon have a failing business model that needs artificial support. Don’t think that the PSTN (and cable) companies want to take full advantage of the cost-savings VoIP could afford them. They just want to be able to do it while still retaining their high profit. Can’t do that if a company like Vonage can swoop on in and offer more reasonable rates. Sprint and Verizon have now made Vonage part of the problem by upholding dubious patents, which is completely unfair to Vonage.

Won’t running to a new VoIP provider just put the target on the next big thing? With all new technology, some of the bugs have to be worked out before it can fit into the world around it. See: Napster. Fortunately, in the PSTN operators’ greed, they have showed their hand and future business models will take note. See: Bit Torrent.

Whatever happened to customer loyalty? Thanks to people like those in charge of Sprint and Verizon, those days are long gone. It’s not just companies either. Try running a rental property some time and witness the people who have no intention on paying wait out their 90-days and leave, no matter how honest and fair you try to be. On that note, I would fully expect Vonage to drop me like a bad habit if I cut off my payment method. A three-year “relationship” would mean nothing to them if I can’t pay for their service on their terms.