Most agree a phone call’s a phone call but VoIP depends on your Web service

As Canadian carriers announce voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, they are getting a lot of free advertising from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The federal regulator does not intentionally promote carriers’ services, but in its efforts to encourage

competition in the local market, it has unwittingly given VoIP providers some help with their marketing.

As this issue went to press, the commission was in its second day of public hearings on how (and whether) to regulate VoIP. The commission’s “”preliminary view”” was that incumbent local exchange carriers should have to follow the same rules when offering VoIP as they have to follow when providing local phone service using the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Competitive local exchange carriers, the commission said, should be free from those restrictions (please see Is it time to reset the clock?, page 14).

Telus Corp. probably had the best argument when it said VoIP is different from local service because it allows more features, such as letting customers move to different cities without having to change their local phone numbers.

Call-Net Enterprises said the incumbents were trying to turn this into an issue of technology, when voice over IP is simply another Internet service.

Is a phone call a phone call whether it’s over the PSTN or using VoIP? Most of the time, it is.

But VoIP is fundamentally different from the PSTN on those rare occasions when the Internet connection goes down. If you’re a small business and you have both an Internet connection and a local phone line, you can always use the phone when you’re cut off from the Web. But if you rely on your broadband connection for all of your voice and data needs, then you’re going to need some carrier pigeons as a backup.

This is not a view that any incumbent carrier wants to promote. Everyone seems to have a vested interest in promulgating the message that a phone call is a phone call, whether it’s VoIP or the PSTN. But those who lose their Internet connections will suddenly start to care about the underlying technology.

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