Pulver: CRTC shouldn’t treat VoIP like phone service

OTTAWA — The guru of Internet telephony is in Canada, and he’s talking revolution.

Jeff Pulver, president of Pulver.com and co-founder of Vonage, was in the nation’s capital on Monday for a speaking engagement just before heading to

Toronto for VON Canada, a voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) convention being held at the Markham Conference Centre Tuesday through Thursday.

Pulver helped start Vonage, a U.S. broadband phone-service company that recently began serving Canada. Currently, he heads Pulver.com, which offers VoIP-related products and information, and hosts events such as the one happening in Markham this week.

Pulver is an outspoken opponent of over-regulating VoIP service. His lobbying played a factor in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s decision not to regulate computer-to-computer VoIP communications. It’s known by many as “”the Pulver decision.””

Meanwhile, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) has said it will likely regulate VoIP phone service similar to the way it does traditional phone service. But both Canadian and U.S. authorities have much work to do before VoIP policies are finalized and all-encompassing.

“”When people hear the word ‘voice,’ they put the entire thing inside a box rather than look at what brings you there,”” Pulver told his Ottawa audience on Monday.

He said too much regulation would stymie efforts to further develop IP technology, and it would limit the economic potential of it.

“”From where I come from, voice is an application,”” Pulver said, arguing it should not be treated by regulators as just another form of telecommunications. One difference between VoIP service providers and traditional phone companies, he said, is that VoIP companies seldom own the networks required for their service.

“”I can appreciate what the CRTC is saying,”” Pulver said, pointing out the potential for companies to simply replicate existing phone service with cheaper rates.

But he said that with VoIP and its communications capabilities, society is “”sitting on the threshold of another revolution,”” comparing it to the emergence of the Internet and e-mail in the 1990s. Besides being able to route phone calls over IP networks, this technology is used for videoconferencing, instant messaging, remote access to company databases and communication with employees working off-site or in transit.

Pulver said regulators should take five to 10 years, allowing VoIP technology to develop further, before laying down permanent regulations.

“”IP communications can effectively change the way we work and live, but you’ve got to give it a chance,”” he said. “”For the last 10, 15 years, the wireless industry has been given the chance to grow.””

Pulver said the growth of VoIP will not be the death of phone companies, but adjustments will be needed because it’s shifting power to end-users and away from service providers.

Several companies are benefiting from recent demand for VoIP products, particularly network equipment vendors like Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and Mitel Networks.

Simon Gwatkin, vice-president of strategic marketing for privately held Mitel, said VoIP gear as a percentage of revenue has grown to 60 per cent from 10 per cent in just more than a year. He said it will probably be around 75 per cent next year.

Gwatkin added that phone companies like Bell Canada might have something to worry about if they don’t adapt to trends in VoIP quickly enough.

“”I’ve read that Bell Canada is doing things with Cisco and with Nortel. But what is it? And is it too little too late?”” Gwatkin said. “”I think the carriers do have a problem … When it’s free, the willingness to pay a fee is just not there.””

A handful of Bell officials on hand for Pulver’s Ottawa appearance declined to comment on the carrier’s VoIP plans.

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