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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Bell is a Four Letter Word... No More
By Paul Tomori
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 at 16:33:54 (EDT)

When I was a young kid, the mighty Bell ruled with an incredible monopoly that forced all of its customers to:
a) use Bell as their phone provider, because there literally was no other choice
b) use Bell as the only legally permissable installer of any phone lines in the house (seriously, you could not even legally run your own lines)
c) use Bell to supply the very phones used (again, I am serious... strange as it may seem to anyone under the age of 30 out there, you actually had to buy a phone from Bell too)

They really had you.

Installation, Hardware, Maintenance and Subscription Service. Any businessperson would salivate at the prospect of cornering all 4 of these revenue streams in their own business. But, to have a government-endorsed monopoly on all 4 was truly a license to print money.

Most people took it in stride, but for some, BELL was a four-letter word. Either way, we all bowed down and prayed to the mighty bringer of modern communications... until something went wrong with the service or our account... And, that's when we discovered that the customer service was extraordinarily poor and everything about the phone service was expensive and limiting.

I use the word "limiting", because people want options. They don't like to be forced into using a single provider who might then become complacent by their sheer dominance. It doesn't matter how good you are at what you do, you can never corner the entire market. Microsoft can dominate in software, but there are mighty forces eroding their base every day. Apple's Operating System is simply better in every way I can think of and even with a minority market-share, Apple is proving to be a growing concern. A small upstart called Google can grow from 2 young students to hold a dominate position in the coveted search market despite the fact that Microsoft could easily have flung millions of development dollars at search to outdo the Google guys before they even dropped out of school to launch Google into the stratosphere.

The world will always sympathize with a David whenever there is a Goliath asserting his arrogant seniority. And, that's a good thing, because newcomers can bring a fresh approach, innovation, better service and more. It will never be impossible for a bright upstart to see a void and fill that void with a better commercial offering. It doesn't even require that the BIG incumbent company be complacent. It just requires that there be someone with vision out there on the fringes. Or that someone comes along with more service and product options.

That is why it was inevitable that Bell would lose it's dominance once the government relinquished it's endorsement of the former Crown Corporation.

Granted, the actual old phone service was fairly reliable. More so than some of the modern phone devices actually. Again, people want options. They want options SO badly that they are willing to sacrifice quality to have those options (this is why we listen to reduced quality recordings on IPODS when a CD or even a record is far superior on the right stereo. The IPOD gives us huge options... 10,000 songs on a small bit of plastic and silicone. Amazing, isn't it?)

Back in the day, Bell was still somewhat of a wonder and that is probably why we tolerated their monopoly as long as we did. It didn't matter that you had to yell on long distance calls to Scotland just to be heard at the other end. It didn't matter that there was no built-in call-answer or call-waiting, the wonderment was strong.

For me, that was the 1970's. In the 80's things changed. By then, Bell was truly a four letter word to most people and there were lots of people with vision champing at the bit to bring the variations of phone services to market.

And now, just 20 or so years later, all of that is ancient history. Deregulation brought innovative calling options. Competitive forces brought cheaper longer distance carriers. Manufacturers were able to introduce new home phone systems... This brought us things like wireless service in our homes and hands-free phones and much more.

In fact, one does not even need a Bell line anymore. Actually, you don't even need a "line" period. Cellular phones make it possible for us to bring our phone with us when we leave the house (sounds obvious, but anyone who didn't leave to this happen could only have been amazed by it on Star Trek!).

The options are endless... Internet technology that permits encoding of voice signals by and transmission through TCP/IP blew my mind in 2000 in Scotland when I was able to talk freely to my office back home in Niagara through a computer phone at the Easy Internet cafe in Edinburgh. It's just 9 years later and internet telephony (i.e. VOIP) is now commonplace and not very impressive anymore. The kids today must just think it is an obvious technology with not much wow factor.

Anyone who thinks they need Bell is dead wrong. You can have a VOIP phone at your house on the Cable network excluding Bell and you can have a cell phone on any one of a couple of dozen wireless networks again excluding Bell.

You need not curse the former Goliath. You have been liberated if you want it.

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