Slashdot refers to a piece by Robert X. Cringely about how Linux and cheap wireless access points combine to form a disruptive technology that wil eventually eliminate telecom companies’ control of the market by making everyone an ISP, capable of providing Voice over IP (VoIP) service.
Now VoIP is certainly a disruptive technology for its ability to potentially eliminate long distance toll charges. However, we are all accustomed to instant dialtone, stable service, and general capacity of the phone network. Local and long distance are called “Regulated Services” because they are regulated by the FCC, with penalties if the service levels are not met. I’ve been an internet user for far too many years, yet none of my providers have ever guaranteed my service. Those services are called “Unregulated Services” meaning that there is no guaranteed quality of service. I don’t know about you, but if someone I know is having a heart attack and I call 911, I’d hate to have my service provider tell me their network is down.
Also, you still need that broadband connection, which isn’t available everywhere, but if you have one then there is a good chance you’re paying that same telecom company $40+ dollars every month for that service, still unregulated. Telecom companies aren’t stupid either, and companies like BellSouth have diversified so that a good deal of their revenue comes for things like entertaiment. They will certainly be offering VoIP as well.
It’s great that technologies like VoIP and even Skype can save me some money, but I wouldn’t count the telecoms out yet. And I would certainly be pushing somebody to think about ensuring some quality of service requirements on these technologies that my life may soon depend on.