The "No Voice" Internet

The New York Times has a story today about American Airlines’ new in-flight internet service and the fact that they are blocking VOIP services like Skype.

I was an early investor in VOIP in the late 90s and am a big fan of services like Skype that allow people to make calls over their internet connections. We use a VOIP service in our home and have bypassed the traditional phone network for the most part.

But there are certain places where I don’t think phone calls make a lot of sense. I certainly would not want someone sitting next to me on a cross country flight to be making business calls the whole way. I also would not want to ride in a NYC subway car filled with people talking on their phones. And though I don’t commute via train, I am sure that those that do don’t want people talking on phones on their morning and evening commute.

But one of the great things about the internet is that it’s gotten incredibly easy to communicate without using your voice. Our family talks constantly via blackberry’s messenger service but we rarely talk to each other on our mobile phones during the day. People travelling via air, train, or subway can use tools like IM, twitter, and web to sms to "talk" while in transit. And that’s a great thing.

I very much want to have broadband internet on all flights, all subways, all forms of mass transit. But I don’t want voice on them. I want the "no voice" internet in these places.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Frank Lynch

    How do feel about filtered content. Personally, I wouldn’t want be sitting beside someone who was viewing NSFW material nor that my children could come into contact with such material on flights andor any form of public transport.

    1. fredwilson

      i agree with you. if its not safe for work its not safe for public places where kids are. i’ve seen people read porn mags on planes and subways and its so uncool to do that

      1. daryn

        I’d rather see the blocking of VOIP and filtering of objectionable materials done via policy than technology, as well as with a gentle reminder when you get on the network, to be considerate of your fellow passengers. Let people complain if someone is doing something inappropriate, and hopefully either the social pressure or the airline staff will get them to tone it down.My issue is that it’s a fine line when talking about technology, but a little clearer when you’re talking about behavior. I’d love to be able to check my voicemail, for example, and if I get it emailed to me, that’d be okay, but I couldn’t use skype to call into it and check it that way? seems silly. And I could be just as annoying recording audio or video mail offline, as i would be if I were actually on the phone/chat with someone.

        1. fredwilson

          Good point about checking voice mail darynI’ve gotten so used to having my voice mails emailed to me with atranscription that I forgot about that ³voice² application

      2. Guest

        Fred, I generally agree with you. However, it was always very amusing to me when I traveled back to the States from Europe and carried with me a a bunch of Eropean mainstream newspapers/mags to the domestic U.S. plane. You probably know that they have somewhat looser standards in Euro-land, so the dirty, scornful looks of prudish, red-meat Americans when they saw me reading Euro-trash invariably gave me a kick…

    2. tim

      I can already bring in pr0n on a laptop/iPod or some magazine. I fail to see how adding broadband capability changes the social norm from what it is today.

  2. davenaff

    I think use cases like this are interesting tests for Net Neutrality concepts and one of the reasons why I think the issue is far more complex than is typically found in most discussions. It would be pretty hard to argue that AA isn’t an ISP and pretty hard to argue that restricting VOIP (either by policy or technology) doesn’t run afoul of most current definitions of net neutrality.

    1. Frank Lynch

      I thinking discussing net neutrality (in this context) is a red hearing. I can choose to smoke in my own personal space and am free to do so, but I daren’t in a public place like an aeroplane or on public transport because a) technology (smoke detectors) and b) policy (it’s a criminal offence to do so).

      1. davenaff

        Sure, maybe you write the legislation in such a way that it allows some ISPs/organizations to be exempt.

  3. tim

    As for voice – I feel that people are making too much over it. On flights you already deal with a 100 distractions on the plane. Thats why we have headsets. And as someone who takes the bus everyday people on phones aren’t that big of an issue – its actually pretty rare. I would rather just have the market figure it out.My only real negative is from a security perspective. People generally forget that everyone can hear there conversation.

  4. Shreshth

    Etiquette should be exercised and appropriate public behavior policy are a good place to limit my crudeness on the morning commute. But I dissagree with technology being a limiting factor or an ISP creating barriers to my usability of any service. I think that is fundamentally wrong.

  5. Berislav Lopac

    Funny thing is that for most forms of communication you list you don’t need broadband at all. Whatever works on your Blackberry was actually introduced back in the dialup era, as it consists mostly of simple text.

  6. Tony Bain

    So AA don’t have the expensive in seat credit card satellite phone?

  7. JungleDave

    Just an observation – I was in Paris this week and surprised to find my cell got perfect reception almost everywhere on the subway. Despite this, only a few folks in any car were on the phone and I never saw it as a distraction given all the other noise and activity on the subway. An airplane or quiet commuter train may be different, but in this case it didn’t seem to be a big deal.

    1. fredwilson

      I had the exact same experience on the metro when we were in paris thissummerI loved having the mobile internet on the subway but never once used thevoice feature on my phone

  8. jer979

    I’m as big a technophile as anyone and love having anytime/anywhere access, but I don’t trust most of my fellow citizens when it comes to etiquette. I guess this is one place where I want “big gov’t” (political low blow, I know) :-)I always speak in hushed tones when in public places and more than once have asked people to pipe down. Maybe people don’t appreciate how good the mics are, don’t know.For most folks, a technology solution will stop them from doing it (for now), since the only hard core (like Fred, the rest of your readers, and I) will know how to get around it, but we’re a select few! For us, there’s the policy angle.In short, agreeing w/you Fred.

  9. Guest

    By the way, Fred,it turns out you were incorrect last Friday, saying that the Fannie/Fred bailout may be the last of the “bad news”. What a weekend! Lehman goes under! Meryll sold! The Fed takes equity as collateral!What’s in store for next weekend? The Fed accepting shares in Twitter as collateral?

    1. fredwilson

      I have a good feeling about the value of the twitter shares for what it’s worth 🙂

  10. Andy Freeman

    Don’t cell phones work in the subways? Don’t airlines still have the voice phones?I don’t see why VOIP is different from other voice transport mechanisms.

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  12. Avrom

    Is there a large difference between hearing people talk to each other on planes / subways compared to people talking on the phone? I am interested to hear what specifically bothers you about the latter since I imagine your are not interested in listening to either.Also, I suspect that the airlines have a different reasons to block the VOIP, such as to protect their investment and revenue from the toll phones installed on the planes (and possibly due to the limited bandwidth that planes will have available for all users). This will encourage hackers to find workarounds to any security which is put in place to stop the use of VOIP.Long-term we may be forced to embrace a new reality where the ability to make calls on planes and trains exists, and focus on shaping the acceptable ways to do so to reduce anti-social results.

  13. TimWalker

    I share your biases on this, Fred, but having read the other comments, now I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better for each airline to regulate this by policy. You would *hope* that people would be savvy enough to do the polite thing anyway, but experience tells us that some people are clueless.The parallel example that springs to mind: using a cell phone as you’re being waited on at a counter. *Most* people set aside their call (or checking VM, etc.) long enough to address the barista or whoever. But the fact that some clueless people don’t is why some delis etc. have signs reminding customers not to talk on the phone at the counter.No reason the airlines couldn’t do the same thing as regards *talking* on the phone — which would still allow people to *listen* to VMs, conference calls, etc. via VOIP.

    1. fredwilson

      I saw that exact behavior (talking into a cell phone headset while checking out at a grocery store) yesterday and it floored me. Some people have no manners. That is so rude and it basically says to the person who is helping you that they have no value. It really pissed me off just seeing it.

      1. TimWalker

        You’re right on the money about treating people as though they have no value, Fred. I find it particularly galling because, in my college days, I waited counters and worked as a receptionist. It costs the patron *nothing* to be kindly.

  14. damiansen

    Are these ethiquete issues almost always the same? “I’m open to everything but think others will abuse of it”?I agree with the no-talk rule: Riding in a bus is something completely different from a plane. Time-wise, stress-wise, …

  15. nils

    you’re so right listening to the consultants on my comuters ride from Berlin to hamburg or to someone in the subway in the morning is annoying. they invented “silence cars” at least in long range trains for people like us.regards, nils

  16. Andrew of Mixergy

    How about no voice calls in public? (Or much fewer at least)