The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

« Previous Post | Technology Home | Next Post »

AT&T hangs up on Internet telephone service

October 8, 2009 |  1:52 pm
The final notice came in a slew of e-mail this week. AT&T Inc. said that it was disconnecting my CallVantage service Nov. 17 and that I had to make arrangements quickly for another carrier.

Att AT&T had announced that it was getting out of the Internet calling business, a blow to what little competition there is among the major land-line telephone operators.

As an online service using voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, CallVantage was able to reach into the home territories of Verizon Communications and Qwest Communications, as well as areas covered by smaller regional land-line carriers. Just as Verizon’s VoiceWing online service did before it was closed this year.

But neither company promoted their programs, shunting them aside as communications afterthoughts. And then, among the reasons cited for discontinuing the service, they pointed to a drop in customers. Small wonder. They simply wanted to promote so-called growth areas -- their own broadband connections limited to the territories they serve.

The elimination of perfectly good programs, CallVantage and VoiceWing, ensured that the phone carriers weren’t going to compete against each other for land-line service.

Sure, more people are moving to wireless-only phones, and there is a bit more competition in a field still controlled mainly by Verizon and AT&T. But in the home telephone market, land lines still prevail -- and each carrier has a near-monopoly. The only competition for wired phones comes from cable companies such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Verizon Moreover, regardless of wireless, the line is still important: It also delivers the all-important Internet connection. For most folks, the choice of broadband service also is limited to two: the phone company or the cable company.

That’s not much competition. That’s why it was comforting to know that at least you could use your Internet connection to open up a bit of free or low-cost competition for phone service.

You still have Vonage, MagicJack, Skype and a host of other players that are using the Internet connection. Google Voice may be one more program to help fill the void, but it’s not yet quite as simple to use as a regular phone.

For me, the loss of CallVantage is not crucial. As the paper’s former telecom reporter, I had tried out all sorts of calling services, and decided to take CallVantage as a home-office phone because it was the best. Most tech surveys also rated it as the best VoIP service, just a notch above VoiceWing and far ahead of anything else.

Still, hanging up on CallVantage and VoiceWing leaves consumers with fewer options -- again.

-- James S. Granelli