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Mandatory Dialing for 505/575 New Mexico Area Code Split

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Approved by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) the final phase of the New Mexico 505/575 Area Code Split begins on October 5, 2008.

On the start date, mandatory dialing takes effect - meaning that callers must use the correct area code to complete their calls. When a 505 area code call is placed to the affected area codes callers will hear a recorded announcement for numbers that moved to the new 575 area code. Callers will be directed to hang up and redial using the new 575 area code.

The NMPRC divided the state into two regions. The southern and eastern portions of the state will be served by the new 575 area code. The northwestern region of the state, including Albuquerque, will remain with the 505 area code. Local calling areas will remain the same; the price of a call, coverage area, or other rates and services will not change. Users' 7-digit telephone numbers will remain the same.

If you live in the affected 505 area code make sure you notify you family members, friends and business associates - as well as update your speed dialing and call forwarding settings if necessary.


How Do You Tax VoIP?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Telephony over IP, wireless service, and traditional landlines all provide the same service--a voice channel over which to communicate. Why is each service taxed differently?

Part of this can be explained this way: while telecommunications is global in nature, it is regulated locally--down to the city level! I pay city taxes on my landline bill, in addition to all the state and federal taxes.

Internet telephony service providers like voip.com are not subject to the same regulations as a local telephone company. Due to their interstate nature, they are specifically exempt from state telecommunication regulations!

That being said, companies like voip.com do have to collect money to pay for certain things mandated by the federal government. Your voip.com bill has three fees on it:

E911 Fee: By law, voip.com and other Internet telephony service providers must provide you access to E911 emergency services. This fee covers the cost of providing that service. Traditional telephone bill will have a similar charge.

Regulatory Recovery Fee: This is a generic fee that covers the cost of complying with the various state and federal regulations. Many wireless phone companies charge a similar fee.

Universal Service Fund (USF): The USF was created in 1997 to comply with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was established to ensure that consumers in all regions of the Nation have access to quality telecommunications and information services at affordable rates. While not explicitly required, voip.com and other providers currently pay into the USF as it is expected to be required in the near future.

To the question at hand: how to tax VoIP. I don't really have the answer for that. However, there are some good ideas discussed on the 15 July 2008 episode of the Alec Saunders Squawk Box podcast. Jim Kohlenberger, Executive Director of the VON Coalition and Brita Strandberg, Partner at Harris Wiltshire and Grannis discuss these issues with guest host Carl Ford.


Mobile Phones On Planes

Saturday, May 31, 2008

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There has been a lot of controversy around the topic of using mobile phones on an airplane. The objections raised include interference with aviation equipment, problems with the terrestrial mobile phone networks when using your handset in the air, and simply annoying your fellow passengers. Here's the skinny on each of these points:

Interference With Aviation Equipment: Aviation equipment is generally well-shielded, making the possibility of interference small. Despite bans, people either accidentally or purposefully leave their phones on during flights with no ill effects. I am unaware of any flight disasters that can be attributed to someone using a mobile device in-flight.

Terrestrial Phone Networks: One issue with using your mobile phone in-flight is that the phone can see way more towers than usual. The mobile phone networks were designed to handle handoffs with handsets moving at highway speeds, not airplanes at subsonic speeds. Due to the distance between the ground and the towers, the phone will have to work that much harder to get signal to those towers as well, which does increase the risk of interference and decrease overall battery life.

Annoying Your Fellow Passengers: There's no question that yakking on the phone in-flight is likely to annoy your fellow passengers to no end. This takes a rather voice-centric view of the mobile phone into account. While I personally wouldn't want to talk to someone on the phone while in the air, I would love it if SMS and data service were available. None of these things would be disturbing to other passengers in the least and would give me the functionality I really want.

Of course, the downside of allowing data service is: you can do voice over IP using that data connection! A friend of mine did just that when Lufthansa offered WiFi Internet service over their flights. With airlines in the U.S. also considering adding WiFi service to their flights, the issue of telephony on planes is going to have to be dealt with one way or the other, whether we like it or not.


The Pros And Cons Of Calling Party Pays

Friday, May 30, 2008

People outside the U.S. and Canada find it odd that we pay for both incoming and outgoing calls on our mobile phones. Conversely, we find it odd that it costs, say, 1.6 cents a minute to call a U.K. landline using voip.com's low rates, but it can cost up to 33.5 cents a minute to call a U.K. mobile phone!

The main reason for this difference comes from the calling party pays system that is prevalent throughout the rest of the world. There is no such thing as "free local calls" as there is in the U.S., which means the person calling must pay for the privilege of doing so. Incoming calls, whether you have a landline or mobile phone, are free.

While this sounds great in theory, what has happened is that the mobile network operators in the various countries have jacked up the termination rates to their network. This can make it expensive to call across the mobile/landline boundary, or even between mobile networks!

Because of these expensive termination rates, some people in calling party pays countries rarely make a voice call. They may, for instance, signal to someone based on the number of rings rather than complete a call. Or they may bypass the voice channel altogether and just use SMS, which is a lot cheaper than making a call.

In the U.S. and Canada, we have a wireless subscriber pays system, where inbound and outbound calls are paid for, in some way, by the wireless subscriber. While these rates were initially high, competition has driven the cost down to the point where the cost-per-minute is fairly low--low enough that it most cases, it is simply a non-issue. The cost to call landline to mobile or mobile to landline is the same. Unlike in calling party pays countries, the cost of calling a particular number rarely enters into the equation.

The end result? According to the CTIA, the lobbying group for the mobile network operators, mobile phones are used more in the United States for voice calling. See their filing with the FCC for more details (warning: PDF link).


Why Mobile Phones In The U.S. Are Geographic

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One of the fundamental tenets of the Bell System that survives today is the concept that local calls are free. What's local? The rough guideline I remember was "anything within a 12 mile radius." In some cases, particularly in more rural locations, local calls may cover a wider area, sometimes at a higher local line cost. When I lived in Hawaii, all calls within the same island were considered local.

The telecom laws in the U.S. require that mobile phones have a "home" in a geographic region. From a practical point of view, it means that all mobile phones are "local" calls from somewhere. In other words, it does not cost any extra money to call a mobile phone than it does to call a landline. The converse is true, mobile-to-mobile minute plans notwithstanding.

Since mobile network operators do not maintain points of presence in every community, your mobile phone number will frequently come from a nearby community. While this generally results in your mobile phone being a local call from your landline, in rare cases, your mobile phone number may be long distance.

One major problem with requiring mobile phones to be associated with a particular geography became readily apparent with the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Anyone who had a mobile phone with a New Orleans telephone number--even though they were physically elsewhere--were unable to receive telephone calls. This is because the New Orleans telephone exchanges were not available.

The downside, of course, to landlines and mobile phones being treated equally in the eyes of the public switched telephone network is that users of mobile phones are charged for both incoming and outgoing calls in the U.S. and Canada. The good news for mobile phone users is that competition has driven the cost of minutes down to the point where the pain of paying for an incoming call is minimal.


Dial Telephones, ANI, and Caller ID

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's funny that we still use the phrase dialing the phone when most people under the age of 30 have never used a dial telephone. I was using rotary phones well into high school. If you've never used one of these phones, this instructional movie short from 1927 should help:

Back then, you typically only dialed telephone numbers in your local area. If you needed long distance, you called the operator and they connected you. Most people didn't know the area codes of distant cities, nor did they need to.

By the time I was born, direct distance dialing, as it was referred to in old telephone instruction manuals, was fairly common. Even with direct distance dialing, there were some locations that required operator intervention.

Here's a crazy fact about dialing long distance calls: you had to supply your own telephone number to the operator! I'm sure this was taken advantage of by nefarious individuals, not to mention a source for billing errors! There wasn't automatic number identification (ANI) back then. One direct distance dialing became more prevalent in the 1960s, ANI simply came along for the ride.

ANI is something that is used within the telephone company trunks. Caller ID is a consumer-level manifestation of ANI, i.e. the transmission of caller information, but it's a completely different system from ANI. ANI is typically not seen by a consumer--and can't be blocked. Caller ID is seen by the consumer--assuming this service is enabled on your handset.

Caller ID can be communicated in a number of different ways, based on the local telco standards. In the U.S. and Canada, it is communicated as a short burst of modem data between the first and second ring. In the case of Call Waiting Caller ID (i.e. caller ID while you are on a call), your phone handset has to go quiet for up to 100ms in order to capture and decode the Caller ID!


Personalizing Your Telephony Experience

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

1896 Telephone (Sweden)Image via Wikipedia

Back in the early days of telephony, the phone company was the arbiter of what telephones you could hook up to the network. That meant only a few models of phones were available--in whatever color they wanted to sell it in. In the early part of the 20th century, the phones were black, like the model T.

This remained the state of affairs until the 1968 Carterfone ruling by the FCC. In short, it permitted any device to be connected to the public telephone network, so long as it did not interfere with it's operation. This single ruling opened up not just the market for telephones and telephony devices of all shapes, sizes, and colors, but opened up new uses of the conventional telephony network, e.g. modems that eventually evolved into high-speed data connectivity.

Back to telephony devices. There are a number of landline and mobile phones available from a variety of manufacturers. Landline phones tend to be, by their very nature, fixed in one location. The fact that you and your neighbor might have the exact same telephone handset is almost a non-issue.

Mobile phones, on the other hand, are a different story. It's not only possible for multiple people to have the same mobile phone, but there are circumstances where figuring out whose phone is who might be a problem. I actually attended an event where a number of people were carrying Nokia N95s around. Yes, there are four different models of the N95, but many of the phones looked alike!

One way you can differentiate your handset from someone else's is to change it's outer appearance somehow. My Nokia N95 actually has a strap from an old digital camera hanging off of it. It makes sense for me because I actually use the phone as my primary digital camera. If you have a different phone or want something different, you can go and buy cell phone accessories such as a new faceplate, keypad, or a "bling kit." Whatever it takes to make your phone look the way you want.

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