March 2000, Volume 16, Number 3
When politicians go mad, call them with dialpad
By Jerry Maizell
“If you see a Swiss banker jump out of a window, jump after him. There's bound to be money in it.”
Voltaire’s crack might today be applied to politicians and the Internet.
For there must be some method in the mad rush of Democrats and Republicans alike to further debauch our already overburdened polity via the bread and circuses of the Internet.
The Arizona Democratic Party has contracted with www.votation.com to conduct “the world’s 1st legally binding public election” - the March 11 presidential primary - over the Internet. Not to be outdone, Alaska Republicans announced that part of their February straw poll was to be run via www.vote-here.com.
The idea seems to be to increase participation in the election process by attracting younger voters. An Arizona study reports that 25 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote if the Internet were an option.
Why bother? If we’re going to water down the honor and privilege of voting for the benefit of those who can’t be bothered to exert themselves every couple of years, let’s just go directly to mobocracy.
Have folks gather in the local equivalent of a Roman coliseum and shout their votes. To be followed by a pleasant game of lions versus politicians.
The point is that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. We need to think through the consequences.
One thing the Internet now allows us to do is to call our elected representatives for a price equal to their intrinsic value – nothing.
While the technology is still in its early stages, making free calls from PCs to regular telephones is now not only possible, it works.
Go to www.dialpad.com, register and start making calls. All you need is Windows 95/98/NT and Netscape 4.5+ or Internet Explorer 4.0+, a sound card, microphone or headset and speakers.
No other software is required, as the entire mechanism is via dialpad.com’s website. You can maintain a phonebook there, then just click the entry to dial to any telephone in the U.S.
The number is transmitted through GTE’s private fiber-optics network, which converts the digital packets into an analog signal. At the other end it's handed to the local telephone company, which delivers the call to its final destination. GTE pays a small termination charge, probably less than one cent, which is covered by ads on dialpad.com’s site.
Call quality varies depending on your connection speed and Internet congestion, but I’ve found it quite good enough. When call quality is consistently poor the problem is most likely with the microphone. Try a known good mike, or a few of them, before blaming the problem on dialpad.com or the Internet or your connection.
Call quality may also be improved by experimenting with various microphone volume settings.
If you get significant echoes in dialpad calls, try moving the speakers further from the mike or facing away from it, and turning speaker volume down. The best solution is a good quality PC headset.
Since launching on October 18, two million members have signed up, using over 100 million minutes. Eventually, dialpad.com plans to offer free international calls, a more complex and expensive proposition.
Presumably, though, your overseas friends can now use dialpad.com to dial your number in the U.S., if they have fast Internet connections. Ask them to try it.
Another site, www.hottelephone.com, offers free calls to 23 countries now, though I’ve not tried it. Friends who have tried it have found it somewhat complex and gave up, but it’s worth a shot.
As these Internet telephony technologies mature, and as sufficient high-speed bandwidth becomes widely available, phone calls will be given away even by the major telcos, as parts of service bundles including cellular and data services.
If our congresscritters catch the Internet voting bug you can call them for free and tell them what you think.
One sentence ought to cover it:
Whom the gods would destroy they 1st make mad.: