Free International Calls?


An article in the the September issue of Wired got me thinking about free long distance. I recall that in 1980 I attended a telecom course while working for Ma Bell and was challenged with thinking through a scenario about a changed communications world.

Free as in free beer

Here’s the scenario;

  • it’s 1980 and competitive interconnect is a reality for premises equipment,
  • not a competitive wind is blowing over the long distance telecom landscape in Canada,
  • mid-level managers congregate in an oddly located Four Season’s Hotel in Belleville, Ontario,
  • amid hushed tones of well behaved telecom managers the team leader drops a bomb in the room
  • The task at hand is to determine what to do between now and 1999 when worldwide long distance charges are eliminated?

This event alone was the single reason I decided that employment at the incumbent telecom company would not be the work of my life. The handwriting was on the wall for a fully competitive market and I wanted to be in the fray.

It nearly came to pass

In 2000 I was one of a fortunate few who manged to be part of the first trial of free VOIP calls internationally. A small service located in the UK provided access to local calls in many cities in both the UK and Europe. The service barely worked and its quality was as bad as open wire in the 1930’s.

Enter Skype in 2003 providing computer to computer VOIP services. Again it was flaky but the company had the persistence to make it work in the long term. Calls to Australia, Europe and anywhere in the US are mostly clear as a bell—and (mostly) free!

What’s strange is…

So what’s so weird about that? Nothing but the fact that now folks are paying their wireless carriers comparatively exorbitant sums of money for local calls, text messages and voicemail. Who would have thought that?

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