Comcast is giving away Internet phone calls

Molly Wood May 24, 2012

So many ways to get in touch. Text, email, Facebook. But there’s news about the good old-fashioned phone call.

Customers of Comcast’s Xfinity service will soon be able to use a Comcast app to make phone calls from their home number over the Internet on any Wi-Fi network. So if you’re out and about, in theory it just got a lot easier to make calls from, say, an iPod Touch without using a cell phone network. Just find a Wi-Fi signal. It’s a system called Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP.

Glenn Fleishman writes for He says, “Instead of using this complicated thing called the public switched telephone network, VOIP just transfers your voice bits over the Internet where they bounce around. Now, the public telephone network guarantees a kind of voice quality, so it will always be about the same, and VOIP doesn’t have that guarantee, so you don’t always get the same quality of calls, although often they can be even better than the public telephone network.”

Now, between this and cell phones, it makes you wonder if you need a land line anymore.

We know they’re reliable. Fleishman says companies like Comcast are trying to make Internet connections just as reliable. “They give you often a second modem or a battery backup modem that allows you to continue to connect and make voice calls even when there’s a power outage, and because the service goes through cable wiring, which is fairly robust, it’s hard to argue that a voice service offered over a cable system is necessarily less reliable or different than one offered via telephone wiring.”

So why is Comcast giving away phone calls? Harold Feld of the public interest group Public Knowledge says business growth. “They are moving from being cable companies to broadband companies which means your everything company. All of these services — video, voice, Internet ride on the same network, so if they want to continue to have growth and continue to get customers, they need to find new markets to move into and this is the next market.”

And the more things you can do through Comcast, the more likely you are to just not bother with other companies that do the same thing. Feld says, “If you just had a plain broadband connection, you could use Skype or Google Voice, or a number of other competing services, but if you’re already a Comcast subscriber and they give you the same kind of functions that you would get from one of these competitors for free as long as you keep your voice subscription, you’ll say well, ok, I’ll keep my voice subscription, I know it, I’m already subscribed to it and rather than try one of these new services, I’ll just stick with what i know which is giving me all of the things they can give me.”

I’m suddenly wistful for rotary dial phones.


IBM has banned the use of Apple’s voice controlled personal assistant Siri from the company’s campus.

Joining me to talk about that is Siri.

Moe: Siri, what is IBM’s problem with you?

Siri: Let me check that for you. I don’t know that, would you like to search the web for that?

Moe: No, it’s ok. I know it. The company is worried the questions asked by IBM workers will get sent to Apple somehow and Apple could steal all IBM’s secrets. Siri, do you send all my questions to Apple?

Siri: To whom shall I send this message?

Moe: Uh. Well

Siri: It says, “My questions to Apple”

Moe: No, you’re missing the point

Siri: I need a contact name.

Moe: I’m not giving you –

Siri: Phone number or email address.

Moe: No. Stop it. Well, it turns out you do. And, Apple won’t say what it does with that information. Siri, are you helping Apple spy on people?

Siri: I found 12 places matching Apple. 11 of them are fairly close to you

Moe: That’s what I was afraid of. This interview is over. Siri, goodbye.

Siri: See you later.

Moe: Yeah, right.

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