Saturday, January 27, 2007

Switching Phones

I've got a number of backlogged topics to blog about today, so I'll begin with this: I've switched phone systems. I was using Vonage; now I'm using Charter (from which I also get cable TV and high-speed internet).

I absolutely loved the Vonage service. Except in one respect it is everything that a telephone service should be. Here's a list of reasons I like it:
  1. When it's well connected, the voice quality is extremely good.
  2. It has intelligent dialing rules. The only digits you need to dial are the ones that differ significantly from your own. This means there is no need to dial "1"+ the area code for those numbers that are in your area code, but long distance, and you don't need to dial "1" for long distance numbers in another area code. It's just smart.
  3. The price is right... under $30 per line per month for unlimited calling. It actually comes to a bit more once you've added in all the federal fees and taxes.
  4. Unmatched calling area. That $30/month buys you local calling to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Spain, the UK, Germany... wow.
  5. Unmatched configurability. With Vonage you can go to your account on the website, and not just view your bills, but activate or deactivate features yourself, with no need for some customer service rep to push the buttons for you. You can receive voicemail notifications to your email or cell phone. You can manage and listen to your voicemails on the web.
  6. Last, but not least, My favorite feature: simultaneous ring of my landline and my cell phone. No need to remember whether I've call forwarded or not. I just pick up whatever phone is handy.
So why switch? Quite simply, it was that Vonage suffered from congestion on the Internet. The voice would become garbled or sound like the classic "Cylon" when this happened. When my ISP's servers went down, so did the phones. Et cetera, et cetera. I have to keep a separate cell phone in case the Vonage service was blocked or choked.

So now I'm on Charter. It's the same cable, but a different signal. Charter places the telephone service at a higher priority than the cable service as well, so an internet or cable outage that's unrelated to the physical cable won't take out my phones.

I don't mind telling you, the Charter service sucks by comparison. There's no web management a la Vonage. No simultaneous ring. No smart dialing. No text notifications. Now, that doesn't mean that Charter Telephone sucks... it doesn't. The voice quality is outstanding (people can no longer tell when I have them on speaker, though I haven't changed phones), and as I mentioned, it's very stable. It compares exceptionally well against BellSouth, or any other standard telco. It just sucks customer service-wise compared to Vonage. The stability makes the difference, though.

My experience with Vonage has modified my thoughts about Net Neutrality. I've just had to give up the best phone company I've ever dealt with due to QoS issues that prevent unimpeded reception of their traffic. I'd have to say that I now lean in favor of prioritization so long as the consumer himself dictates what is prioritized. I wouldn't want the fact that an IP telephony service to impede my choice of a company like Vonage. However, it's absolutely clear to me that an unimpeded "Wild West" approach to Net Neutrality has exactly the same effect.


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