Musings of an Internet Marketing Consultant
Musings of an Internet Marketing Consultant

Saturday, May 22, 2004

New directions for Canadian nationalism: Technology Trumps Icons I

While there are many reasons to be proud to be a Canadian, I have long felt that Canadians with a strong "nationalist" sentiment have had their hearts misplaced when it comes to supporting national institutions. This past week three events in Canada have demonstrated that technology, and specifically Internet technology, will trump misplaced nationalism every time. This is the first in a series of three postings bringing awareness of the changes that are coming.

Voice communications: (the technology "formerly known as the telephone") The arrival of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as a consumer and business service is about to uproot the conventional revenue underpinnings of the traditional telcos. This was articulated in many sessions at the VON Canada event in Markham, ON earlier this week. (Check out The Jeff Pulver Blog for May 2004 for some highlights - Jeff is the producer of these VON conferences).

The icon: The Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) is responsible for ensuring the "Canadian" public interest is served through its licensing of radio and television spectrum as well as its regulation of public telephone services. Over the years its role as a regulator has often crossed the technology boundaries involved to also become a gatekeeper for ensuring the existence of channels for promotion and distribution of Canadian cultural content. Their regulatory guidelines have now come into conflict with technologies that have no inherent infrastructure involving geographical boundaries.

VoIP incorporates tehcnology that transcends geographical barriers; it does not differentiate between local and long distance calling; it is transparent to political boundaries. I currently use a VoIP service that provides me with a US-based phone number that is answered in my office outside Toronto, Canada with a phone set that I purchased at the local Costco. My cable ISP provider does not even know they are my long distance provider since my VoIP phone looks like just another computer to them. Yet I can call anywhere in the world and only have to pay minimum charges beyond a monthly flat rate when I call outside North America. It can be call forwarded to conventional land line phones and/or mobile phones. VoIP brings new challenges to regulatory authorities since the technology brings transparency to the geographical aspect of voice communications. Both Vonage and Primus have recently started offering VoIP services targeted to the Canadian market.

But this is only the beginning of a new communications world. Here are my predictions for the next couple of years.

  • VoIP levels the playing field; finally a cost effective way to allow competition in the local carrier market: in addition to the traditional telcos, the cablecos (Rogers, Shaw, Videotron) and even ISP's will be able to offer voice communications services with relatively low capital expenditures

  • Watch for new services associated with VoIP offerings. Just as the Internet became the base platform to transform business and to allow individuals to express themselves as well as research their individual interests, VoIP allows the telephone handset to become the base platform for many new services from one number "follow me" to social and business collaboration services.

  • Voice conferencing will become a routine service. VoIP offers the potential to allow "friends and family" conferencing at a moment's notice.

  • WiFi Telephony: WiFi will become a complementary wireless telephony offering to cellular that brings the benefits of VoIP to the wireless world. Watch for new WiFi/GSM phones in the next year; here's a WiFi-only version.

    But all of these services transcend political boundaries and will offer new regulatory challenges (as well as new challenges for, say, integrating 911 Public Services Agency access). Look for a totally transformed Bell, Telus, MTS and Aliant in the next two years as they replace their traditional revenue streams. But what does the role of the CRTC become in a VoIP world? Or is there even a role for a regulatory agency? Is there a "public interest" to be protected?

    And vent your nationalism through your support of the Calgary Flames in this spring's Stanley Cup final.

    Next: eCommerce finds new markets for a key cultural resource.

    May 25, 2004 Update: AT&T recently commenced a VoIP service, CallVantage, in selected areas of the U.S.; here is an initial review that outlines many of its features.

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