You Become what You Disrupt

An idea we’ve been exploring in advance of the Web2.0 Summit is “You become what you disrupt”:

  1. What changes occur when you win a platform play, when you go from disruptive technology to a public utility?
  2. Where are the opportunities to innovate instead of regulate?
  3. What parts of “eTel” are becoming “Tel”?
  4. Where else will this happen?

For example, the ongoing US VoIP/911 debacle was a missed opportunity to improve a life-saving technology. There have been years of delays, lawsuits, and regulatory standoffs while emergency calls go unanswered. Yes, the fine print says that VoIP isn’t a replacement for your phone line, and suggests that you educate “anybody that might be in your home” about how to call 911. At some point in the adoption curve that kind of disclaimer becomes unacceptable… but where?

The 911 Modernization and Public Safety Act (H.R. 3403) is now being considered by Congress. This bill is intended to give VoIP providers the same access to the 911 system as wireless carriers. It appears to have broad support from both public safety officials and VoIP providers. However, according to, it’s opposed by established operators because it “provides more access to 911 infrastructure than wireless carriers have and therefore an unfair advantage”.

How do we avoid this kind of problem in the future? Where should we be looking now?

Services like Skype are classified as “data services”, meaning they don’t have to provide 911 access for now. It’s unclear how services like SkypeOut and Skype embedded handsets change this, although their terms of service say:

7.4.2 No Compulsion to Offer Emergency Services. You recognize and agree that Skype is not required to offer Emergency Services pursuant to any applicable local and or national rules, regulation or law. You further recognize that Skype is not a replacement for Your primary telephone service.”

Perhaps this Skype job posting provides clues as to how this will play out:

of Government and Regulatory Affairs, North America

Goals: (…edited…)
* Influence legislative and regulatory developments in the North American region
* Minimize exposure to political and regulatory risk
* Develop specific expertise in the area of public safety and state telecommunications public policy
* Act as educator to government and regulatory stakeholders
* Promote Skype’s interests through various coalitions, trade associations and public safety groups in particular the state government affairs groups inside the VON Coalition and other industry trade associations
* Act as early warning system for regulatory risks

These questions take us far beyond 911. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that “consumers in all regions of the nation, including low income consumers should have access to telecommunications and information services”. Will the Universal Service Fund subsidize internet and VoIP? Should it?

Similarly, new “utilities” are emerging from the web as a platform. Will utility computing services like 3tera Applogic or Amazon EC2 eventually become regulated? What about identity services, or even “social utilities” like Facebook?

Your thoughts and feedback are most welcome!

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