& cplSiteName &

Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/1/2005

Will the VOIP industry be punished following the Supreme Court's Brand X decision?

That's what some are wondering after the court's classification of cable broadband as an “information service" rather than a "telecommunications service." The worry: The classification may limit what VOIP providers can do if their service is blocked by a broadband provider (see Supremes Sing Cable's Praises).

The last time a VOIP service was blocked by a broadband provider (Madison River), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that a "telecommunications service" must remain neutral to all consumer applications flowing over it (see Vonage Victorious in Blocking Case). But not all phone calls are considered part of a "telecommunications service" in the cable world, and they likely won't remain so in the telecom world either.

The Supreme Court in the Brand X decision reaffirmed the FCC’s earlier contention that a broadband “transport” service is indistinguishable from the services (like VOIP) that run over it, and as such must be classified as one thing -- an information service.

This kind of talk has some legal types in the VOIP community worried (see Vonage Hits ISP Resistance).

The Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition's Staci Pies, for one, thinks this may take away some of the legal leverage a "bring-your-own-access" VOIP provider like Vonage Holdings Corp. might need to effectively seek relief through the FCC.

“The negative here is that it may be easier for the owners of that [broadband] facility -- the ILEC or the cable company -- to discriminate against traffic coming from unaffiliated providers, whether that’s VOIP traffic or some other kind of data,” Pies says. “When there is a problem, there’s very little recourse now to seek an enforcement action.”

Now that many of the same companies that offer broadband service are launching their own vertically integrated VOIP services, the financial incentive to block or tamper with unaffiliated VOIP provider traffic becomes clear (see Does VOIP Business Add Up?).

Vonage remains concerned about VOIP port blocking but plays down the importance of how the courts or the FCC classify broadband service. As such, Vonage believes the Brand X decision will have “no material effect” on its business.

“A lot of people are trying to tie the neutrality issue to telecommunication services law, and we honestly view the [broadband provider] neutrality issue as a separate and distinct issue from what classification your service is,” says Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz.

“The broadband consumer should have a threshold set of assurances that they can rely upon to make sure that their traffic isn’t tampered with,” Schulz says.

But no such set of assurances exists today. While the FCC acted quickly and decisively to stop Madison River from blocking Vonage traffic, the agency has not issued a ruling specifying that broadband providers remain “neutral” and do not discriminate against information services like VOIP.

VOIP service provider Nuvio Corp. last year filed an ex-parte letter with the FCC asking for exactly that sort of thing. In the letter, Nuvio says the FCC should use its Title I authority to prohibit broadband providers from hindering the traffic of unaffiliated VOIP providers.

“Vertically integrated broadband and voice providers have every incentive to discriminate against unaffiliated VOIP providers,” Nuvio CEO Jason Talley states in the letter. “By blocking or degrading access to unaffiliated VOIP services, the vertically integrated firm can create a quality difference in favor of its affiliated voice service.”

“If these vertically integrated firms are allowed to discriminate against unaffiliated VOIP providers, they will almost surely garner the majority share of the VOIP market, and in doing so drive smaller unaffiliated VOIP providers out of the market,” the letter states. Washington telecommunications attorney Dana Frix says folks may be reading too much into the FCC's intent. “These are really just technicalities,” Frix says.

Frix points out that while the Supreme Court in Brand X calls broadband an information service, it also deferred to the FCC as the best possible authority to rule on such issues.

"The questions the Commission resolved in the order under review involve a “subject matter [that] is technical, complex, and dynamic," Justice Clarence Thomas said in the Brand X decision. “The Commission is in a far better position to address these questions than we are.”

"The FCC could take a look tomorrow and say, 'That thing that we called an information service is in fact going to be called a telecommunications service or is a kangaroo service,' or whatever the hell it wants to call it,” Frix says.

For the past five years, Frix points out, the commission has been very friendly to unaffiliated players like Vonage, consistently enforcing maintenance of the free flow of Internet traffic.

“We’ve got to stay focused on the bigger picture here,” Frix says. “Believe me -- if a cable operator were to block Vonage traffic, the FCC would smack them down immediately.”

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

(46)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Related Stories
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
dljvjbsl
dljvjbsl
12/5/2012 | 3:08:49 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
When the telcos spent fortunes on ISDN, they realized if ISDN fulfilled its promise then they would no longer be needed. Like any other digital network, ISDN enabled services at the periphery. Customers could create their own services that would be better suited to their needs than the genric offerings of the telcos.

The telco resonse to this challenge was predictable. Instead of embracing the posibiliites of ISDN, they made sure that ISDN could not deliver the services of which it was capable. Subscribers were gvien the opportunity to pay premium prices for conventional services. Naturally subcribers rejected ISDN and the telco investment of billions was lost.

The telcos had an opportunity of creating the Internet and rejected it. Instead the IP community created the Internet and the present state of telcos and telco vendors such as Nortel and AT&T speaks volumes.

If MSOs attempt the same thing and block VoIP, P2P or any other type of useful customer service, they will suffer the same fate. They may be able to destroy the possibility of customer benefit but they will not be able to create a profitable service. If they try to be telcos, the telcos, who have had a hundred years of experience, will brush them aside.
geof hollingsworth
geof hollingsworth
12/5/2012 | 3:08:48 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
Here is what I would do if my name was Roberts. First, develop a quality, scalable VOIP offering of my own and a marketing & operational capability to roll it out. Then, I look at my network statistics, and identify which existing VOIP vendors have the dominant share on my network in the markets I am rolling out(almost certainly Skype for 1, #2 may depend). As I mount my promotional and marketing campaign, I also start to randomly insert 100ms of delay into, say, half a percent of the packets of the two leading VOIP vendors transiting my network. Did I mention that my marketing campaign would be trumpeting the quality of my service relative to the now-impaired competition? With the Internet being the Internet, I would count on word of mouth on the degraded quality of the impaired competitors spreading virally and quickly.

Then, for good measure, I would rachet up my campaign contributions and governmental affairs budgets to make sure that even if someone finds out that is what I am doing, there are no regulatory repercussions. After all, it is not much different to what the ILECs did to the CLECs by refusing to fix outages unless and until the CLEC could prove it hadn't resulted from a problem with CLEC equipment.

Anyone want to wager how much of this business plan is already in place.....?
rjmcmahon
rjmcmahon
12/5/2012 | 3:08:47 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
Anyone want to wager how much of this business plan is already in place.....?

I'd take that wager. MSOs don't need to instigate VoIP degradation to grow their revenues. They do need to do things like expand their VoD libraries (which they are doing). For VoIP, it's probably cheaper and easier to partner with somebody like Vonage. This approach seems more likely to me.
dljvjbsl
dljvjbsl
12/5/2012 | 3:08:46 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries

The telcos had an opportunity of creating the Internet and rejected it.



I see it a bit differently. Please feel free to correct any misunderstandings.

It's my understanding the telcos provided the leased lines which the internet providers used in the first place. The fundamental difference between the two groups' networks was one used statistical multiplexing and the other used time division multiplexing. Therefore, the TDM providers participated though indirectly. (It's kinda like the landlord of a strip mall leasing out space to a fitness center. Now when the landlord notices the fitness center has become popular, he decides to evict the tenants and get into the fitness business himself.)


ISDN contained both packet and TDM(channel switched) services. It would have given users the ability to set up digital connections between endpoints.

ISDN was quite capable of doing this but failed because the telcos, in their myopia, created the concept of 'supplementary services.' Instead of making the network transparent to the end points, they followed traditional telephone thinking and made it opaque. Subscribers could purchase access to supplementary services such as 'Call Forward Busy', Speed Dial, etc. The telcos could not get past the idea that they were offering services to connect telephones together. They were telephone companies and so were going to make sure that they stayed in business and kept their jobs by making sure that ISDN was used to make telephone calls.

They did this because they saw correctly that if they allowed subscribers to connect arbitrary equipment to the end points, then the customers would have no use for their supplementary services. Endpoints could do such services as G«ˇCall ForwardG«÷, G«ˇSpeed DialG«÷ etc much better than the telcos centralized switches. SIP is proving that today.

ISDN was started by people with a vision who wanted to create something like the Internet today. It was supposed to be the G«ˇsingle socketG«÷ system. Standard buses were described which would allow devices to be plugged in anywhere. Services would be created, bandwidth shared etc all dynamically. Instead the telcos recreated the telephone network they knew and relied on to keep their jobs. That they created an ISDN network which had little to no customer value meant little to them. They had nice secure jobs and made sure that they kept them.

ISDN was a vision of the Internet that never came to fruition because it challenged the well being of the network owners. It took a group of outsiders to exploit the same technological possibilities that the creators of ISDN saw and create the Internet.

So ISDN issue is not about any packet switched vs TDM controversy. ISN was a digital system completely capable of creating services in the same manner as the Internet does today. There is a single socket system. It even uses the same physical RJ45 and RJ11 connectors. Except that it is Ethernet and not ISDN S-bus.

Incidentally statistical multiplexing is completely compatible with TDM systems. The TASI system, which carried voice traffic across the Atlantic, was a TDM statistically multiplexed system deployed in 1959. Burst switching, proposed by GTE, was another form of this. One could say confidently that the current conception of the network with an MPLS core implemented over fiber is a connection-oriented system. It is much closer to the traditional PSTN than to a pure connectionless packet network. With the quickly coming supremacy of XML in applications and MPLS in the core, IP is going to become a legacy routing layer that will eventually be squeezed out of existence just as the pure circuit switch was.

douggreen
douggreen
12/5/2012 | 3:08:46 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
Well, aside from Al Gore...

The DOD and research Universities were the real pioneers in terms of using the telephone networks to build a data network. For a decent summary of how the Internet evolved and the important people, here's a decent link..

http://www.walthowe.com/navnet...

IMO, the most important invention that made the Internet what it is today was the creation of the graphical browser which made it usable by the masses.

Throughout the history of the Internet, the telcos certainly played a major role by moving the bits from point A to point B.

Every time I reflect on it, I still find it hard to believe that the web was in its infancy 10 years ago.
rjmcmahon
rjmcmahon
12/5/2012 | 3:08:46 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
The telcos had an opportunity of creating the Internet and rejected it.

I see it a bit differently. Please feel free to correct any misunderstandings.

It's my understanding the telcos provided the leased lines which the internet providers used in the first place. The fundamental difference between the two groups' networks was one used statistical multiplexing and the other used time division multiplexing. Therefore, the TDM providers participated though indirectly. (It's kinda like the landlord of a strip mall leasing out space to a fitness center. Now when the landlord notices the fitness center has become popular, he decides to evict the tenants and get into the fitness business himself.)

Instead the IP community created the Internet and the present state of telcos and telco vendors such as Nortel and AT&T speaks volumes.

It doesn't explain the ILECs buying the long haul providers. It does suggest that TDM equipment and business models are becoming obsolete. The natural monopolies remain it seems.
rjmcmahon
rjmcmahon
12/5/2012 | 3:08:45 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
It took a group of outsiders to exploit the same technological possibilities that the creators of ISDN saw and create the Internet.

What did the internet outsiders do differently than the creators of ISDN?
mr zippy
mr zippy
12/5/2012 | 3:08:45 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
With the quickly coming supremacy of XML in applications and MPLS in the core, IP is going to become a legacy routing layer that will eventually be squeezed out of existence just as the pure circuit switch was.

You've said this before in another thread, and I posed the following question, for which I don't remember getting an answer. I'll expand the question a bit more.

In a pure IP(v4|v6) network today, IP addressing is used for at least three things :

(a) as node identifiers
(b) as network location indicators
(c) as the entity a the forwarding decision is based upon, at each hop through the network

MPLS doesn't replace the functionality of (a) and (b), and in fact, when MPLS is used for layer 3 traffic forwarding, relies on IP to provide those functions for its own and the same purposes.

MPLS does replace (c), however it only replaces traditional IP forwarding after the first and last hops ie. MPLS doesn't replace the edge hop forwarding.

MPLS also relies on IP for its control plane functions eg. distributing FECs via IGP(s) or BGP, and matching those FECs with labels via label distribution protocols (LDP, BGP).

If XML is to replace IP, and MPLS is used for forwarding, how are nodes going to be identified and located, and how is MPLS going to distribute the control information that it needs itself ?

I think I could see how XML could be used to represent the identities of edge nodes, and, in a similar way to MPLS is being used to carry layer 2 traffic, could be used to blindly carry XML identified traffic. However, as MPLS is a non-edge hop forwarding method, I'd think that would mean that edge LSRs would have to contain tables of the XML hierarchy.

I think there are two signficant issues with this model :

(a) Either the Edge LSRs will have to maintain knowledge of the complete XML hierarchy (and I'll admit, I'm not fully up with XML, I seem to remember there is an XML hierarchial tree structure similar to ASN.1/SNMP), which isn't scalable, or they'll have to be a hierarchy of MPLS clouds created, with XML aware edges in between them to provide scalability, and some sort of default or aggregated XML routing to forward towards the appropriate XML/MPLS clouds.

(b) How is first or last hop forwarding performed ? Unless XML is going to replace layer 2 identifiers ie. MAC addresses as well, there'd need to be an XML ARP-style protocol developed to map XML identifiers to layer 2 identifiers. Is one being developed or does one exist ?

MPLS forwarding could be extended to cover the first and last hops. However, I'd think that then means that XML to MPLS label mapping, and MPLS label distribution functions need to be performed on the end nodes themselves, and that means end-nodes would have to support IP, and have IP addresses so they can participate in the MPLS control protocols (ie. in real terms OSPF/IS-IS and LDP, or BGP). If that model pursed, why not just use much simpler IP and DNS to achieve forwarding and node identification and location, and only make the applications XML aware, rather than bloating up the network ?
sgan201
sgan201
12/5/2012 | 3:08:45 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
Hi,
Pardon my ignorance if my understanding is wrong..

MPLS is connection oriented. You have to setup a connection before you can talk. So, if you imagine a world where only XML and MPLS are used, you will have to setup a connection when ever the XML refer/connect to something else. I do not think this is scalable by any means..

Dreamer
douggreen
douggreen
12/5/2012 | 3:08:44 AM
re: Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries
"They embraced the possibilites of services defiend at the edge instead of trying to suppress them as the telcos did."

Actually, the founders of the Internet weren't neccesarily thinking this way at all. They were using a dumb transport network (from a data point of view), so they had to create services at the edge. There was no choice to be made.

On the other hand, the first phone networks had no choice but to put dumb POTS on the edge. Both philosophies were born out of neccesity.

Browsers initially didn't do anything in terms of service creation. They were a way of hiding the mechanics of service creation from the user. Initally, you could not do much more with MOSAIC than you could if you knew your UNIX line commands well. Your arguement apply more to software like JAVA.

Believe me, I hate to argue from a telcos point of view. However, one can see how the phone companies have always stuggled with the fact that they created a network for voice services, then had it hijacked by data applications. They have been on the defense ever since and cannot seem to figure out how to switch to offense.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Featured Video
Upcoming Live Events
March 16-18, 2020, Embassy Suites, Denver, Colorado
May 18-20, 2020, Irving Convention Center, Dallas, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Upcoming Webinars
Webinar Archive