Turning Off The Phone System? What Do You Mean We’re Turning Off The Phone System?

A few weeks ago I went to a fascinating gathering of a few dozen academics, policy wonks, and others from the U.S.  and elsewhere to talk about the end of the phone system. While by no means a unanimous consensus, a very solid majority considered the phone system obsolete and ready for the scrap heap. This will come as a surprise to those of you who called home on Mother’s Day or who thanked God for a call center number when your broadband connection went down. But in fact, most of you are probably not using a phone service but a “phone service,” so we are half-way to shutting down the actual phone system anyway.


For about a year now, folks in the nerdiest, geekiest, obscurest reaches of Policyland and Wonkdom have been talking about how to turn off the phone service and replace it with “phone service.” For those of you enjoying “phone service” from the likes of cable companies or cell phone providers, you may wonder why this matters. Sure, Grandma may finally need to replace that princess phone, but other than that, who cares? As is so often the case, however, these technical issues matter quite a bit in the real world – but you won’t notice until waaaay too late to make a difference. (Unless you keep abreast of these things by reading this blog.)


In the best case scenario, we shift over to an all digital network free from antiquated laws and policies that stifle innovation and needlessly increase cost to consumers. In the worst case scenario, your phone becomes an utterly unreliable overpriced service that doesn’t guarantee that you can communicate with someone on another phone network because the two networks are having a “peering dispute” and won’t exchange traffic. What actually happens is anyone’s guess at this point, but the recent effort to totally deregulate “phone service” in California gives us something of a preview.


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