Sunday, February 05, 2006

Postage Due

A recent article in the New York Times detailed AOL’s and Yahoo’s plans to charge a quarter cent for companies sending their subscribers’ e-mail. Their objective is to dramatically cut down on the spam and phishing that ends up in our mailboxes. The scheme will allow those that pay postage for their message to receive priority and bypass black-lists and spam filters. In addition, addresses in user’s address books will not be subject to paying postage and receive the same service.

There are many reasons why this scheme is not a solution to the spam problem. First, spammers will still send messages. Some will pay the fee. It is still cheaper than direct mail. Second, the ingenious spammers will use zombie machines to send messages to recipients in user’s address books. Third, it will impede senders of legitimate e-mail. Under this scheme, if I met someone in a business meeting and I wanted to send them a follow up message, I would have to ask them to add me to their address book or pay the quarter cent. Not much, but it is an additional expense I thought came with my Internet service. Corporate users will just consider this the cost of doing business, but personal users will find paying postage burdensome. I suppose that it will put and end to those pesky chain letters that people are always sending me. Proponents claim postage is just the solution that we need to reduce spam to a trickle.

What is puzzling is that these same proponents are opponents to the RBOC charging for tiered service. According to the NYT article, AOL and Yahoo are positioning the postage as a superior class of service just like the RBOC. Where is the opposition to this scheme? Tom Evslin, ex-executive of AT&T’s Worldnet service, is against it for one. His argument that it will adversely impact subscription services and legitimate e-commerce is extremely compelling and lucid. I have no problem if service providers want to charge extra for a service like certified mail that validates and guarantees the identity of the user as long as it does not impact how I send mail today. Will it stop spam? No way.

The widespread use of digital signatures is another effective way to prevent spam, but the cost of a digital signature has to come down to under $5 per year before we see widespread use. You can buy a domain name for $1.99, why not a digital signature? What I would like to know is how AOL and Yahoo will make the service any different than using a digital signature? It seems to me that they work about the same way. Why not credit senders a quarter cent until they pay for the digital signature. That way there would be a cap on how much user’s are charged. Once everyone has a digital signature, the e-mail client would verify the message header against the digital signature. If they did not match, then it would be filed as junk mail. Other solutions like Sender ID or DomainKeys are effective at preventing spam and they do not require user intervention.

Spamming is an arms race. Legislating it away did not solve the problem. Spammers either ignore the laws or moved off shore. Charging will not solve it. They will hijack machines or continue to use best effort and hope they get through. There are even ways around Sender ID or DomainKeys, but these solutions are more effective than blocking messages that do not pay a toll. So go ahead and charge for a higher class of e-mail. If users want to only accept mail from certified senders and people in their address book then that is their prerogative. Anything less is creating a walled garden and against the spirit of the Internet.

Tags: AOL , Yahoo, e-mail, Tom Evslin

BroadVoice LNP to be Completed on February 7

I received confirmation from BroadVoice on Friday that my local number portability request from Vonage will be completed on Tuesday, February 7. Finally! It took almost 90 days for the request to be completed. As I mentioned two blogs ago, this took way too long. I am a little apprehensive now that the date is at hand. BroadVoice still has its problems…many of them. Yesterday I lost all service because something mysterious happened to my ATA. I had to factory reset it to get dial-tone again, and then I had to reconfigure several parameters again. I went through initial problems with Vonage in the early days. I don’t know if I want to go through it again.

Vonage is a great POTS replacement service. I am not leaving them for any other reason other than I want more features. BroadVoice has a slew of features that Vonage is missing. Although I would not call BroadVoice a POTS replacement service yet. Hopefully they will bring it along. I will miss Vonage’s Click-2-Call capability for Firefox and Outlook. BroadVoice does not have a similar capability, and I have not been able to get their Outlook integration to work.

The bottom line is that my LNP request should not have taken 90 days. I hope that I don’t switch providers again for a long time.

Tags: VoIP , LNP , Vonage , BroadVoice

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hollywood Baby

A little levity is a good thing. This picture of my daughter Madisen was taken at lunch on Friday. She thought that it was funny to wear her mother's sun glasses. Stephanie and I thought that it was cute enough to put up on the blog. Madisen will not be attending the Grammy Awards.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Does the FCC Need to Regulate VoIP LNP?

I hate to even bring this topic up because I am generally adverse to government regulation of any type. My recent experience with transferring my number from Vonage to BroadVoice leads me to believe that the FCC needs to step in and mandate a 72 hour maximum to transfer a number from one carrier to another including VoIP. I signed up for BroadVoice’s VoIP service over 90 days ago and completed my local number portability (LNP) request three days after signing up. Within 24 hours, BroadVoice confirmed acceptance of my request. Since then I have not heard a word as to the status of my request. During this time, I have been paying for services from Vonage and BroadVoice negating any potential savings this year. Most customers would not tolerate the time lag and cancel their BroadVoice service. I probably should have as well due to all of the problems that I had with BroadVoice, but they changed CLEC and most of the problems seem to have disappeared.

There is no logical reason why Vonage and XO Communications should take at least 90 days to transfer my number to BroadVoice’s CLEC. The wireless industry was forced by the FCC to solve that problem and maybe so should the VoIP industry. I shudder to even suggest that the FCC should provide some regulation to the VoIP providers, but the length of time it takes to transfer numbers hurts the fledgling VoIP industry. VoIP providers can blame it on the RBOC and CLEC all they want. The customer still sees it as a problem switching to the new service. The FCC had to involve themselves with E-911 before the incumbent carriers started working with VoIP providers. They should do it again for LNP. All carriers whether wireline or wireless, POTS or VoIP should have to complete a number transfer request within 72 hours unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Tags: VoIP, LNP, Vonage, BroadVoice, FCC