On Monday evening, my wife reached me on my mobile phone. She was spending a long weekend with her family in Maine.
"I've called our home phone several times," she said. "And I keep getting a busy signal."
That night, I didn't think twice about the phone problem. We have been VoIP customers for more than a year, and flaky service has been standard operating procedure. I reset my VoIP converter box and crossed my fingers.
Then, on Tuesday, when the problems persisted, I called my VoIP provider, SunRocket, and got the message that the company was no longer taking tech support and sales calls. That's not good.
Many free-market analysts and large telecom providers have hailed this as a new era of competition. It's a wonderful new world where your VoIP provider can cut off your home phone service without warning.
This week, SunRocket went belly up without any communication to its 200,000 customers. SunRocket had been providing both my home and my home office phone service.
I could charitably say that phone service since Monday evening has been intermittent. In reality, phone service has been mostly dead with occasional spurts of dial tone.
Now, when business associates try to call my home office, they get either a busy signal, or they get one ring and a hang-up. I'm trying to switch my home and office numbers to Vonage, but they say it could take up to 10 days for the switch to happen.
When I first heard about SunRocket more than a year ago, it seemed like a good solution to large monthly telephone bills. The local incumbent phone service was charging about $60 a month for unlimited local and long distance.
SunRocket offered unlimited local and long distance and even some international calling for $199 a year. The company also offered a second out-of-area-code phone number at no cost. That feature caught my eye because my home office is in suburban Maryland, but most of the people who call me are located in Washington, D.C.
My wife and I looked at a savings of more than $500 a year and decided it was time to check out VoIP.
The switch was not without problems. Voice quality was spotty at best, particularly when we were talking to someone on a mobile phone. For months, we had problems with frequently dropped calls.
We soon became quite familiar with the "not-my-fault" phenomenon. SunRocket blamed the problems on Comcast, our broadband provider. Comcast, of course, blamed SunRocket. (Comcast: We can't guarantee quality of service for third-party applications. By the way, why don't you switch to our voice over IP service -- it only costs double what you're paying now.)
After months of experimenting with equipment configuration, we finally got most of the problems ironed out. When it came time to renew our annual subscription, we had mixed feelings, but SunRocket was still significantly cheaper that most alternatives.
We paid $199 for a year of service in March. In late June, in a sign of things to come, SunRocket laid off about a quarter of its workforce. The way I look at it, someone owes us about nine months of phone service, but we're not holding our breath.
Now, in some ways, this is just a story about a couple hundred thousand VoIP customers who saw their phone service go dead without warning. But there's a larger context here.