Where regulation is good: Google Voice and Vonage
Shortcut URL: http://t.conquent.com/T800
I can't imagine being a government employee trying to keep up on what the government should be regulating and what it shouldn't. Take Google and Vonage, for example. These aren't phone companies, per se, but they sure act like phone companies -- they give you a phone number that can be dialed from any phone, and a service that lets you dial any other phone. Making two phones talk to each other seems like a phone company to me no matter what other services you offer or what technology you're using.
But Google and Vonage don't get regulated like phone companies because they're classed as "information services" which means they don't have to play by the same rules as all the other companies that connect phones to each other. Some of those rules are bunk, based on maintaining the infrastructure built by Ma Bell once upon a time (much of which is superceded by cable and wireless in the Voice over IP world of Google and Vonage).
But some of it is consumer protection. Things like phone number portability, which means that if you use Google Voice for your main business line (which I'm finding increasingly common in the consultant world) and you decide you want to change service, you can't keep your number.
Take the Conquent phone number in Portland, for example. When the company started 11 years ago, it was just me on a cell phone. But it was a regulated phone number owned by Qwest. So when I got sick of Qwest, I flipped it to Verizon. Then I used a little trick they had at the time that let me forward all my calls for a flat fee, so as Conquent grew and moved into different offices, I was able to point the number where I wanted, kind of like Google Voice today.
But one day, Verizon started metering all the calls being forwarded, which meant we were paying cell phone rates for every minute on inbound calls -- they didn't tell us, we just suddenly got a phone bill for over $1,000 where it had been $25. Again, because it was a regulated service, we were able to move the number and contest the bill. We then moved the old cell number to our land-line phone service, where it sits today, just like any other landline.
Enter the unregulated services -- Google and Vonage own those phone numbers, and they're in pools of numbers that aren't necessarily able to be moved to another carrier, even if they wanted to. Without consumer protections we have with the traditional telcos, a story like Conquent's wouldn't have such a simple, happy ending. Instead, all the time, effort, and money invested into a phone number goes away, and there's nothing you can do about it.
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John Bissell: Re: Where regulation is good: Google Voice and Vonage
This is an example of how everything is become digital, thus the same, yet still regulated as if everything is different. This will take a while to fix. We need to wait for all the people who are under 30 now to start making all the rules and running all the courts. By the time that happens, all this will be different and those youngsters will be the old out of touch people we are complaining abut now.