Vonage - Rallying for the Little Guy - Will You Vote?

In the wake of Vonage's "permanent stay" reprieve this week, things are quickly falling into line as a David and Goliath story, and Vonage is taking up the mantle now in the name of competition, choice and free markets.

Yesterday, they launched a "national grassroots communications campaign to educate and mobilize consumers about preserving the freedom to choose their phone service provider." That pretty much says it all, and when you're fighting for your life, this is a pretty noble cause to initiate.

To get behind this, Vonage has launched a website, "Free to Compete", where you can hear what they really think, and more importantly, sign a petition. The site makes it very clear they think Verizon is trying to patent VoIP, and use analogies like "Can you patent an orange?". Well, of course you can't, so the logic makes sense, but - I couldn't resist - we're really talking apples and oranges here (and I don't mean Apple...). That's a bit of a stretch, but I will say that I don't think Verizon can patent VoIP, but it's a much grayer area than Mother Nature.

The site also mentions that Vonage has taken out full page ads in national papers about this, but being in Canada, I wouldn't see these, but I'll assume they're a variation of what's on the site.

Anyhow, so what is this petition all about? Well, if you go there thinking it's a vote for free competition and preserving choice for the consumer, you may be surprised. Those are the reasons I would go there, and those are solid reasons to be voting.

However, the petition is for Verizon to drop its case against Vonage. Well, that's very different in my eyes. Ultimately, yes, it's about choice - if you follow the logic that if Verizon wins, Vonage is out of business, and consumers have less choice. There's a lot of causal logic going on there, and Vonage needs to be careful that this doesn't come across as a pressure tactic to rally public support behind them to get Verizon to back down. Public sentiment may be favoring Vonage in the David/Goliath scenario, but am not sure it will be this favorable.

The campaign could work very well, but it could also backfire. What if people don't sign it? What if people are worried about somehow getting on Verizon's bad side by doing this, and their phone service or Internet service all of a sudden starts acting up? Do you really think Verizon will just stand by and ignore this initiative? Maybe they will - deliberately. Or maybe they'll launch their own counter effort to tell their side of the story. They've got pretty deep pockets, and am sure they don't like being painted as the bad guy. They do own these patents after all - for better or for worse.

I definitely have mixed feelings about using public forums like this to sway opinion and rally support. Vonage's survival cannot be regulated, and in a free market, consumers make their choices, and that's what determines who wins and who loses. If it comes down to who uses PR more effectively, Vonage might be on the right track here. Or they may not.

If the glove fits....

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