Are ISPs Blocking VoIP Calls?


Internet telephony companies Vonage and Nuvio have turned to federal
authorities with their complaints that some broadband providers are blocking
or degrading their Voice over IP services.


Last week, the Edison, N.J.-based Vonage confirmed it had met with the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the problem, but stressed
today 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. People and the
Internet should not be infringed upon by last-mile providers. 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.

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