Earlier this month, I was “slammed” by my local phone company. In telecommunications parlance, “slamming” means switching your long-distance carrier (without your say-so) to a plan with ruinous rates. In prison (I’ve read), “slamming” means hiding something (usually a weapon) by sticking it where the sun don’t shine. After getting my last phone bill, I’m not sure which seems more painful. So I thought I’d be an easy convert to the PhoneFree revolution.
The problem is that with free service, you get what you pay for. Using PhoneFree didn’t quite sound like we’d strung together two tin cans between Boston and New York, but it wasn’t great. Bruce came through pretty well, but I had to nearly shout everything just to be heard, and I felt a bit silly sitting in an empty room and yelling into a microphone.
There’s also a networking problem–it took more man hours than I care to admit for us to set up and complete a PhoneFree “call.” It’s not worth the trouble to go through that process with everyone I speak to long-distance. Plus, it’s impossible– two of my favorite long-distance correspondents, snug in the ivory womb of academia, still use Macs, and cannot currently install PhoneFree or its Windows-biased rivals.
Maybe the solution is some sort of PC-to-phone service. With PC-to-phone, you pay a monthly flat fee, and you can use your computer to call domestic phone numbers. International numbers generally require a higher fee, and a nominal per minute charge. I’ll report on these services later in our discussion.
Maybe the solution is the status quo. Domestic long-distance isn’t all that expensive, and it’s only getting cheaper. Until computer phones make some serious strides, I’m willing to endure atrocious customer service and horrible celebrity spokespeople.
But I’m not ready to throw in the towel on computerized telephony, and I don’t think the market is either. Why not? Porn: Any technology that can disseminate pornography more efficiently will ultimately become widespread and profitable. The Internet is only the best example–VHS also owes some of its tremendous success to mankind’s will-to-porn. And Internet telephony has erotic cachet to spare. Hearme.com, whose software powers Yahoo’s audio chat, even offers “romance” live voice chat on its site. Right now, it’s the 1-900 empires, not MCI or Bell Atlantic, who should be running scared. No one’s going to pay a professional $3.95 a minute if they can get racy talk gratis in Hearme’s “married and flirting” room. But full duplex–the ability to speak simultaneously–must become universal. Want to know why the citizen’s band couldn’t captivate the mainstream? Try having phone sex on a CB radio.
10-4 Good Buddy,