Recently the VON (Voice on the Network) conference was here in Boston. This remarkable event, hosted by Jeff Pulver, has grown considerably over the years. This year it drew over 5,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors, filling two floors of the Hynes Convention Center.
It’s interesting to chart how the mood of VON has evolved. In the early years, VON drew a handful of digital hipsters who could see the potential of carrying voice and data on a converged network, along with a brave few companies who hoped to make money on it, mostly by building gateways that connected a PBX to the Internet to enable cheap long distance. Then, as the Internet took hold in the popular imagination, VON was filled with revolutionaries who were convinced they would topple the telcos-that-be. Many of those telcos (think AT&T) suffered, but so did everyone else when the bubble burst. (Worldcom, anyone.) Now the barbarians are firmly within the gates. Even such establishment figures as the chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, who gave the keynote this year, are celebrating the revolution.
Still, it will be difficult to find the right level of integration. Powell, in his speech, talked about how VoIP will enable a new generation of creative applications and if that disrupts the status quo, so be it. He came out firmly for what David Reed has called the End to End Principle – that the network should get out of the way and thus enable creativity at the edges. Powell listed four Internet Consumer Freedoms:
(1) Freedom to Access Content: Consumers should have access to their choice of legal content;
(2) Freedom to Use Applications: Consumers should be able to run applications of their choice;
(3) Freedom to Attach Personal Devices: Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to the connection in their homes; and
(4) Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information: Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their service plans.
This is a significant departure from the Terms of Service of many of the major Internet Providers, which often prohibit operating a server, as if anyone could define server in an age of peer-to-peer games and file sharing.
Still, Powell had trouble saying just how his agency would guarantee these freedoms, While he did say that the FCC would “affirmatively establish jurisdiction over these services” during the Q&A he said that until there was evidence of a problem he was reluctant to step in. As he said, it is comparatively easy to establish regulations, but very difficult to remove them.