RealTime IT News

It's Degrading: VoIP Firms Urge More FCC Action

Internet telephony firms praised Thursday's action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine a small telecom for blocking Voice over Internet Protocol traffic, but said problems of keeping broadband networks open to all IP applications remain.

Over the last six months, both consumer VoIP provider Vonage and wholesaler Nuvio complained to the FCC about both telecom and cable broadband providers either blocking or degrading VoIP calls. In some cases, the providers offer their own VoIP service and in Vonage's and Nuvio's opinion are discriminating against unaffiliated VoIP companies.

Thursday, Madison River Communications of Mebane, N.C., which owns and operates four rural telephone companies in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Illinois, admitted no guilt in port blocking complaints brought by Vonage, but agreed to a $15, 000 fine and promised to drop the practice.

Chris Murray, Vonage's director of government affairs, said in Madison River's case, one of the company's subsidiaries was blocking VoIP calls to and from a customer who chose to get VoIP service instead of leasing a second, hard-wired telephone line.

"They gave no notice [to the customer]. [His Vonage service] had been working and one day he woke up and it didn't work," Murray said.

For the second consecutive day, Madison River officials, who are considering a public stock offering, did not return media inquiries.

Murray said New Jersey-based Vonage would continue to "vigorously monitor" broadband providers. "Unfortunately, there are others out there blocking calls," he said.

Nuvio President and CEO Jason Talley called the FCC action a first step in the right direction, but either the FCC or Congress will need to take further action.

"This is the single, largest problem VoIP will face. It's critical not only to our survival but for all next generation IP services," he said. "Port blocking is easy to point out, but the other stuff [degrading the VoIP signal] is harder to prove."

Talley said Kansas City-based Nuvio's problems center around an unnamed cable modem provider.

"Here's what cable is afraid of: they sell someone a broadband connection and then they get their video service from, say, SBC," Talley said. "Cable has long said they should have the right to control [on the application layer] what travels over their networks."

Without congressional or FCC action, Talley said consumers face the prospect of a pre-Telecom Act world where only one provider controls what services go into a home.

"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," Talley said.

Murray refused to say if his company has had problems with cable companies blocking or degrading Vonage's services, but said his company was investigating a "different type of provider [from Madison River]. We're not ready to talk about who the providers are."

When specifically asked if the company in question was a cable provider, Murray again demurred, saying only, "It's not small provider."