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carriers did not incur charges associated with international settlements and could pass on the savings to their users in the form of lower rates per minute. In the United States, settlements are governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which directs carriers that have agreements with foreign carriers to report those agreements to the FCC. A more recent agreement governing international settlements is the International Telecommunications Agreement of January 1997.2 Two components of technology made these operations possible. First, the VoIP gateways could be purchased for about $200 per port or leased from the gateway vendor for a nominal monthly payment. Second, a transpacific data circuit could be had for a few thousand dollars per month from a data services provider. For some operators, that data circuit was the public Internet. By leasing the VoIP equipment, the operators reduced their sunk costs, a traditional barrier to entry. Sunk costs are defined as expenditures that are at least partially lost once an investment is made (in this case, buying the equipment).3 A barrier to entry is a constraint that prevents additional sellers from entering a firm s market. In this case, by using low-cost VoIP equipment and leasing data circuits, the service providers could enter the market at a relatively low cost. This scenario also points out a low barrier to exit in that the service provider could leave the market, assuming it became unprofitable, with equal ease. One case study is that of OpenTel Communications based in San Francisco, California. OpenTel could lease a 128 Kbps leased IP circuit between the United States and Asia for $5,000 per month. Compressing voice at 4.8 Kbps on their Netrix VoIP gateways, OpenTel could get approximately 26 simultaneous conversations on that circuit. OpenTel found that a VoIP solution was faster and less expensive to provision than the leased lines or Frame Relay. At this time, AT&T charged 54 cents per minute for a call from United States to China. Prepaid calling card providers similar to OpenTel charged $.48 per minute. Once this technology became better known, a race began among operators to enter markets the big three would not service. It became important for operators to establish a point of presence (POP) in a given third- or fourth-world nation, connect to a data circuit (often the public Internet or,
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Kennedy, Charles and Veronica Pastor. An Introduction to International Telecommunications Law. Norwood, MA: Artech House, 1996, pg. 123.
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GlobalEdge Glossary. Michigan State University, 2002. http://globaledge.msu.edu/ibrd/ glossary.asp Index s.
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
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in the case of Africa, Frame Relay via satellite) between that nation and the United States, and commence originating and terminating traffic between the two nations. A lot of money was at stake for non-U.S. governments trying to block the long-distance bypass operators. Firstly, they were often government-owned monopolies known as PTTs. Long-distance bypass deprived them of valuable revenue. Secondly, the bypass operations deprived the PTTs of settlement payments from the United States.4 Settlement payments from the States to those PTTs in 1996, for example, totaled about $5.4 billion per year.5 Eventually, the long-distance bypass operators achieved legitimacy in their respective markets. The big three carriers soon recognized the advantages of contracting with an operator that has existing facilities in the target countries to handle their traffic between the United States and that nation. This would cause the bypass operators traffic to grow into the many millions of minutes per month of traffic, and it gained them mainstream respectability and the attention of potential buyers. One example is AT&T s March 2000 investment in VoIP carrier Net2Phone.6 In the international long-distance bypass industry, VoIP proved to be a disruptive technology in that it had distinct technology deficiencies that were eventually overcome and quantifiable advantages that caused that traffic to prevail over the legacy, mainstream business model. The bypass operators competed directly with mainstream PTTs in international longdistance markets. International VoIP traffic has continued to grow, increasing from 1.6 billion minutes in 1999 to 5.3 billion in 2000. Although most of this traffic is carried by specialist VoIP carriers, many minutes are originated by traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) operators who have chosen to outsource some of their international traffic to VoIP operators. On
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The Accounting Rates System, also known as the International Settlements Policy, sets the accounting rate and the division of tolls. Its origins date to a time when governments owned their respective national monopoly telephone companies. Each carrier and respective government was compensated for originating and terminating a call between their respective countries. The telephone company originating the call billed its customer. That price is known as the collection rate. The price paid to the terminating phone company is known as the accounting rate. Long-distance VoIP bypass carriers avoid paying collection and accounting rates. Source: Kenney and Pastor
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Braga, Carlos, Emmanuel Forestier, Charles Kenny, and Peter Smith. Developing Countries and the Telecommunications Accounting Rates Regime, A Role for the World Bank. World Bank, February 1998. www.worldbank.org/html/fpd/telecoms/pdf/account.pdf.
6 Boulton, Clint. AT&T Grabs 37% of Net2Phone. Internet News. March 31, 2000. www. internetnews.com/bus-news/article/0,,3_331911,00.html.
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