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Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Modest Proposal

OK, Sancho, saddle up Rocinante.  I'm taking on the biggest windmill yet.  I'm going after the holy trinity of "voice, video and data."

I've already said that since only the transport of video is eligible for funding, and video is all transported over data networks, video should vanish from the Eligible Services List.  To continue my holy trinity analogy, there are 3 hypostases (voice, video and data), but only one transport: TCP/IP.  All that videoconferencing gear was only kind of partially eligible, anyway, and video service providers were just trying to shoehorn in ineligible services with unrealistic cost allocation percentages and erroneous interpretations of the eligibility rules.  Let's simplify the program and toss video.  It's small potatoes, but it would simplify the program.

And now the bombshell: voice services should be thrown out of the program.  I'll acknowledge that this is problematic, since voice services provide much of the revenue for this program, but I have good reasons to toss it.

My first argument is the same as the one I used for tossing video: the transport of voice is increasingly done over the data network.  It's especially stark in the VoIP world, where there is no central switch through which all calls flow.  Once a call is set up by the call processor, the two phones toss out data packets which ride the Internet like other data packets (OK, maybe they get QOS special handling).  The VoIP "PBX" (or the hosted VoIP service provider) does not transport the call.  It sets up the call between the two phones, but the call is transported over the Internet.  If you call a POTS line, then the call has to be transported onto the PSTN, but that is generally going to be done by the recipient's carrier, so your hosted VoIP provider is still not transporting the call.

Secondly, Congress said that the E-Rate should be based on this principle: "Elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, health care providers, and libraries should have access to advanced telecommunications services...."  A phone call is not "advanced telecommunications"; voice services are sooo last millenium.  Let's take the scarce resources of the program and focus them on the future, not the past.

Finally, I question the "educational purpose" of voice services.  In every discussion of educational policy, someone trots out this chestnut: it should be all about the children.  All my kids put together have logged about 45 years of school.  That's over 8,000 student-days.  In those 8,000 days, how many times have my kids used a telephone?  I'd estimate 20 times.  Students are not allowed to use phones except in very special circumstances.  If you were able to divide the total of all the phone bills of this nation's schools by the total number of minutes that those phones were used by students, you would get a cost-per-minute that would never pass a Cost-Effectiveness Review.  What about communication between parent and school, you ask?  These days, most of the voice communication from my kids' schools are robocall announcements, and those robocall services are not eligible for E-Rate funding.  Phone calls are not essential to education.

As the E-Rate runs out of money, we should be focusing on technologies that are forward-looking and used directly by students.  Voice services are neither.

There, I said it: No more phone service in the E-Rate program.

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