Saturday, 22 September 2007

There may be no free lunch

One cautionary tale for Telco 2.0 is that the network is still owned by the Telco 1.0 business, and they don't want to lose out.

Robert Cringley often warns about network neutrality; a concept that you might imagine exists, but actually doesn't and probably never will. Similarly you may imagine that any call you route will always be honoured - that's not the case.

FreeConference.Com enables a caller to set up a conference call for the price of a single long-distance call to the mid west, and then receive an access number that up to 95 other callers can use for a conference. Alternatively you can pay a small charge and avoid the trunk call cost. This service has been up and running since 2004. Most of the things you would expect to find are there, including recording. Unsurprisingly, it's popular with small businesses and voluntary organisations. A similar service for 5p a minute is offered from the UK by http://www.voicemeeting.co.uk/. And there seem to be quite a few other similar services.

Unfortunately Freeconference.com wasn't to the phone companies liking; they consider a call to be something between just two parties - not a load of people. And they have their own conferencing services to push. So many carriers, including AT&T simply block the service.

While this appears to be a cartel like limiting of consumer choice, in fact the problem lies deeper with regulations, smaller carriers and termination fees. All seem some distance away from the original idea of almost free phone conferencing. The current legal view is that it is the big companies game, and they can take their ball away anytime they want to.

If there is a lesson, it's that service offerings that depend on transient loop holes or treading on toes are less water tight than ones that seem good for all involved.

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