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Vonage's Citron A Voice Of Reason In VoIP Arena

Besides being a pretty good salesman, Vonage chief executive officer Jeffrey Citron

is one of those rare birds on the vendor side of matters: A pragmatist, who realizes there's a lot of compromising, handholding and partnering ahead for him and his company's nascent Voice over IP business. That puts him a step ahead of some players on both sides of the VoIP debate, whose my-way-or-the-highway views can only further bog down the potential of an already muddy market.

During and after his participation in this past week's Network Outlook conference, Citron was the model of let's-just-get-this-done. His call for a wholesale restructuring of intercarrier connection fees makes sense, especially since the FCC and the major carriers still seem to always be at odds over various implementations of the 1996 Telecom Act.

The FCC, to its credit, appears to be giving all sides in the VoIP issue equal opportunity to have their voices heard. In addition to launching a well-thought-out VoIP information site, the commission is following through on its plan to hold open hearings on pertinent VoIP issues, including what should and shouldn't be regulated, and what steps all participants might start taking to assure some kind of agreement down the pike. It's also issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for VoIP, a lengthy and somewhat turgid document that nevertheless calls for more public comment and input.

The forces of moderation, however, are already being countered by posturing bloviators. One one hand you have legislators like Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), who take the "let the Internet be free" stance; on the other are people like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who think that they should be able to tax just about anything that might provide their state with more dollars. And you won't have to wait long to hear from the inevitable lobbying groups who will claim that VoIP is going to rob rural customers of phone service, leaving the flyover state residents stuck in dial-up while the rest of the nation surfs and calls each other at broadband speed.

Clearly, there's some middle ground where the VoIP players can all innovate and make money, while delegating some of their proceeds to support the switched voice network if and when they connect to it. People like Citron and the FCC, who realize this going in, are the types we should listen to and emulate. The posturers, on the other hand, need to get off their soapboxes, admit there's more than one side to the story, and sit down with everyone else to figure out a plan that really works.