My take on the service formerly known as Bellster
There’s been a few opinion pieces on Bellster, or rather fwdOUT as it is been renamed by Jeff Pulver when Bellsouth got all uppity that Jeff dared to use the name “Bell.”
In short, fwdOUT allows you to make calls using other people’s phone lines in exchange for allowing others to make phone calls on yours. The system enforces this by means of credits, meaning that in order to gain credits to make outgoing calls on other lines, you must earn credits by allowing people to actually use yours. It’s a way of enforcing the “The love you take is equal to the love you make” philosophy.
While I applaud Pulver for attempting to redo something he wanted to do 10 years ago now the technology is actually there to do it, part of me has to ask the question: why? VoIP as it exist today has basically cut the cost of making a phone call just about anywhere to a negligible amount of money. There are literally hundreds of carriers to choose from (in North America at least), most providing access for reasonable rates and under a variety of terms.
There is a certain warm, fuzzy feeling one gets from sharing what they have with others. This is something fwdOUT definately fosters, and I have to admit that gives it some appeal. On the other hand, sharing your phone service in this way might get you in trouble if the phone company finds out. Chances are they won’t, of course, but you do need to be aware of it.
I am a paranoid bastard and don’t like the idea of allowing someone I don’t know the ability to make calls on my PSTN line, potentially using it for illegal or harrassing calls. That opens me up to additional liability since those calls would have come from my phone. And while I trust Pulver and his team’s ability to keep track of this stuff, can they maintain this “evidence trail” in a manner that would be acceptable to a court of law, in case I needed it? Would they be willing to provide that evidence to the proper authorities under a court order? Would they tell those same authorities to “get bent” if they wanted the information without a court order?
Personal liability issues aside, I think Pulver would get more people to sign up if he could drop the requirement for Asterisk and allow people to either use a VoIP to PSTN gateway device like a SPA-3000 or any other SIP device along with an appropriate PSTN gateway (e.g SPA-2000 with an FX-200 port converter). I personally shut down my Asterisk server because I felt it was too much overhead for what I needed. The missing function not provided by the Intertex iX66 SIP Switch–voicemail–is provided by an Asterisk server, just not at my house.
The reason Jeff is doing fwdOUT now may be the simple geek answer I give my wife when I do something with technology that is seemingly pointless–because he can. It may be nothing more than that, and I can grok that. On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jeff had a couple of other surprises up his sleeve.