A couple of weeks ago Nuvio urged the FCC to keep broadband providers from tampering with third-party VoIP phone service providers riding on their broadband pipes. Specifically, Nuvio Corp., a private-label VoIP provider, wants the FCC to prohibit cable providers/MSOs, Baby Bells and other broadband providers from blocking access to other VoIP services or surreptitiously degrading the service level. Best analogy I can give - imagine you are using Comcast high-speed Internet and using Vonage for your VoIP provider. Since Comcast offers their own competing VoIP offering, they could in theory "slow down" or "block" IP traffic coming from or destined for Vonage's servers that have "known" IP addresses.
Even if they don't "slow" the traffic down, they could in theory claim that any "slowdowns" or poor VoIP quality is due to heavy web traffic -- and that they have the right to "prioritize" their own customers VoIP traffic over any competing voice service.
That's a really sticky issue. Does the broadband provider have the right to assign certain service levels based upon which "services" the customer subscribes to? There already is precedent to charge a certain amount of money for "guaranteed bandwidth". That is for example, many cable broadband providers that charge more money for 2MB bandwidth versus 1MB bandwidth or give you a discount on broadband if you subscribe to a Showtime or HBO package.
Of course, the issue really isn't whether or not broadband providers can provide guaranteed QoS to their VoIP customers - they certainly have a right to do that. The question is do they also have the right to treat all other IP traffic as "second class citizens". In my opinion, the answer to that is also "yes" - it's their network, they can do what they want - but with one caveat. My caveat is that if the broadband providers determine IP traffic destined for competitors and then segregate that traffic and then intentionally provide a separate quality of service upon that competing traffic, then certainly that is anti-competitive and should be against the law.
If the broadband providers want to classify non-VoIP customers traffic as "2nd class citizens" with low priority, then they need to classify ALL traffic in this same category - web traffic/HTTP, FTP, P2P networks, etc. No one is going to want to use a broadband service provider that "slows" down their web traffic or file downloading speeds just to try and intentionally reduce the voice quality of competing VoIP providers.
Of course, the broadband providers could get really creative and induce a "100ms delay" on all packets for these "2nd class citizens", which would not be apparent when you are surfing the Web or downloading a file, but would be readily apparent if you tried to have a VoIP conversation. Having 100ms latency without all the other latency factors added in would result in horrible VoIP quality issues.
So I guess we're back to square one with the need to ensure the broadband providers don't "play with the packets". In a letter filed with the FCC, Nuvio proposes that the agency use its Title I authority under the 1996 Telecommunications Act to ban "discriminatory practices by vertically integrated broadband/VoIP providers" offering rival services.
Now, today, Nuvio has filed a similar filing to the one they filed a few weeks ago regarding "fairness" in the VoIP space. They announced that the company has filed official comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) addressing requirements of VoIP providers pursuant to The Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). In the comments, Nuvio urges the Commission to diligently consider the following factors when deciding the aims of CALEA in respect to VoIP.
1) The Commission Must Apply CALEA VoIP Obligations Evenhandedly
In order to be effective, CALEA requirements must be applied to all VoIP providers and, by the same logic, all providers of packetized data communications services including instant messaging and online chat room services. Ruling otherwise would provide an attractive loophole for terrorists and criminals seeking to circumvent lawful surveillance by using services ostensibly exempt from CALEA.
2) Financial Assistance for CALEA Implementation in VoIP is Essential
In past circumstances, providers affected by these obligations have received financial support from the government in order to make their networks amendable to CALEA. Nuvio urges the Commission to preserve this precedent and to advocate for financial assistance, allowing VoIP providers to adhere to the country's homeland security priorities.
3) VoIP is a New Paradigm for Assisting Law Enforcement
The advent of VoIP simplifies legitimate law enforcement surveillance and requires a completely new evaluation of how this sector interacts with communications networks. Appling dated rules to a new system will be inefficient and will produce suboptimal results
Although there have been some "international" instances of a provider blocking competing VoIP traffic, it has not happened in the U.S. yet - though rumors persist it is happening, the evidence hasn't materialized. In my opinion, since there is enough competition in the broadband space, no broadband provider wants to alienate their customers by blocking IP traffic to a specific VoIP provider. But the fear of a customer backlash should not be the sole deterrent preventing broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic to certain IP addresses. I for one do not want to wake up one morning and find out that Charter (my provider) decided to block IP traffic destined for Vonage's servers(my main phone line), so I hope Nuvio wins their battle to ensure fair play in the broadband VoIP space.