Are ISPs Blocking VoIP Calls?

Tuesday Mar 1st 2005 by Roy Mark
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Internet telephony firms Vonage, Nuvio take complaints to the FCC.

Voice over IP, or VoIP, services offer many SMBs a way to save money on their telephone charges, but it seems that new technology is never without controversy. In this case, Internet telephony companies Vonage and Nuvio have turned to federal authorities with their complaints that some broadband providers are blocking or degrading their VoIP services.

In February, the Edison, N.J.-based Vonage confirmed it had met with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the problem, but stressed it had filed no formal complaint.

"There was one malicious, intentional incidence of port blocking," Brooke Schulz, Vonage's senior vice president of corporate communications, said Wednesday. "We've had initial meetings [with the FCC] to discuss our options."

The Vonage meeting with FCC officials came almost six months after Kansas City-based Nuvio sent a letter to the FCC accusing unnamed broadband providers of engaging in discriminatory practices by blocking Nuvio VoIP calls.

"In each case, they [the broadband providers] had their own VoIP service," said Jason Talley, president and CEO of Nuvio.

Talley also stressed that most broadband providers are not engaging in the blocking practice.

"It's been on a limited basis. Most of them out there don't do it and don't want to do it," he said. "It's easier to stop it now rather than to have to take remedial action later."

Both Schulz and Talley said the companies blocking VoIP calls are setting a dangerous precedence for all IP-based services.

"It's the largest issue facing VoIP and all other IP services," Talley said. "What's next, e-mail that doesn't use your provider? IM? If you purchase broadband access, you should be able to use the applications that run over it."

Schulz added, "It's really about consumer protection. Last-mile providers should not infringe upon people and the Internet. The whole principal of buying [broadband] service is being infringed upon."

Talley wants the FCC to issue a rule that broadband providers cannot discriminate against IP-based applications that move over the providers' networks.

Currently, the FCC heavily regulates the networks run by the Baby Bells but exercises little authority over cable modem broadband providers, having ruled the cable service is an unregulated information service.

"They [cable providers] don't have any legal restrictions from doing it [blocking] now," Talley said. "We want the FCC to adopt a rule that the applications layer of broadband should not be discriminatory."

In a Sept. 13 letter to the FCC, Nuvio argued that broadband providers have an economic incentive to discriminate against unaffiliated VoIP providers since the providers have the ability top control the quality of VoIP calls.

"This raises the possibility that a broadband provider that also offers VoIP service may discriminate against unaffiliated VoIP providers in order to increase its overall profits and retain market share," the letter states.

Talley said broadband providers have three ways to block VoIP calls: blocking the user's actual port at the consumer premises, blocking traffic from a registered service and selectively and randomly degrading service or introducing latency.

"By blocking or degrading access to unaffiliated VoIP services, the vertically integrated firm can create a quality difference in favor of its affiliated VoIP services," the Nuvio letter asserts.

The FCC did not return a request for comment.

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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