I Want My HD Voice, by Jeff Pulver, co-founder Zula, Inc.

The prospect of the FCC including HD voice calling as an objective of the IP transition reminds me of the birth of MTV via the “I want my MTV” campaign in 1981. The launch of MTV required more than just a good idea, the launch required music fans to force the gods of programming to include MTV in the channel lineup. The communicating public must force HD voice into reality by making it clear in the FCC request for comments in Docket 13-5 “I Want My HD Voice”.

The IP transition and possibility of HD voice represents the fulfillment of the promise I saw in an obscure Israeli startup Vocaltec Communications twenty years ago. Long before connecting with 5000 friends on Facebook and 500,000 followers via Twitter, I connected from Great Neck, New York with the three founders of Vocaltec Communications in Israel to make voice an application of the Internet. The possibility of sending voice over the Internet did not even come up as science fiction in 1995. Communicating at the time by either writing a letter or dialing a telephone remained unchanged from the 1930’s

The arrival of VocalTec IPhone led to the first phone to phone call via the Internet with Free World Dialup in 1995, the founding of the VON Coalition in 1996, the founding of Vonage in 2000, the Pulver Order in 2004, the Vonage Order in 2005, and, eventually, the retirement of the PSTN in favor of all-IP networks. The ability to deliver HD voice calling with twice the fidelity (doubling the octaves from four to eight) represents the fulfillment the dream that I saw back in the days when I was an expert in fixed income securities on Wall Street, in the early days of the commercial Internet.

This discussion of voice may seem to show my age given the nearly exclusive reliance of the communication intensive youth on texting and images. I admit graduating from college in the same week Mark Zuckerberg was born, but I guarantee HD voice triggers a communication renaissance that surpasses all expectations. The present lack of interest voice communication reflects the consequences of communication experience nearly unchanged for 80 years. There exists a need for a wide range of communication tools, but voice as the principal means of human communication remains unchallenged for conveying language. We do not defer to text when standing in front of each other.

My appreciation for voice communication with anyone in the world traces to a life long passion for ham radio. Ask someone with a hearing disorder if you doubt the demand or utility of voice. Consider the effect of turning off audio for even the most expensive video conference system. Traditional calling died because an audiogram for the frequency response of a telephone call shows the entire population of the planet suffers a hearing disorder and profound hearing loss across 80% of the audio spectrum.

My friend Daniel Berninger points out how the act of communicating increases serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain in a manner similar to crack cocaine. The crisis of a teen losing a cell phone looks like drug withdrawal because the suffering feels the same. Communication arises third on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need after basic survival and safety and before success or spirtual needs. The unbounded human longing for communication promises adverse effects for any attempt to impose scarcity. The collapse of interest in traditional voice owes to the new communication free-for-all and the natural consequence of a failure to expand the value proposition of calling for 80 years.

The arrival of HD ends the wait for a means of voice communication approaching the in-person experience. There exist many benefits in the proliferation of text, but voice remains the most powerful means of conveying emotion. The dynamics of humans connecting via voice operates on a different level than text. The routine abuses of comment trolls or email flame wars rarely arise between people in a voice conversation. The capacity to converse with everyone on the planet as easily as a next door neighbor changes the nature of civilization.

The FCC comment cycle addresses the final steps in the journey around HD voice interoperability. Please join me and make your voice heard by letting the FCC know “I want my HD voice.”