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VOIP services

Comcast, Vonage Strike VOIP Pact

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and VOIP service specialist Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG) have struck a pact ensuring that whatever network management techniques the MSO ends up choosing, they won't impact the Vonage voice traffic that runs on Comcast's high-speed access network. (See Comcast Connects With Vonage.)

The announcement offered little technical detail about the "collaborative agreement" between the competing voice service providers, but Vonage and Comcast officials confirmed it doesn't mean Vonage's traffic will obtain any special treatment, such as priority over other packets that are traversing the cable operator's network.

Instead, the agreement, which has no financial components, ensures that the lines of communication between the companies remain open should network congestion occur and affect Vonage's "over-the-top" VOIP service.

The accord lets Vonage customers "know that if there are concerns, we have ways to escalate [those concerns] through a communications path with a competitor," Vonage VP of regulatory affairs Steve Seitz tells Cable Digital News.

"We haven't found any reasons to believe... there are issues, but [if they do occur] we wanted to make sure we had a path to resolution between us and Comcast," he adds, noting that Vonage is encouraging other Internet service providers to put together similar agreements.

More specific details of the agreement are confidential, according to Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast's senior director of corporate communications and government affairs.

The Vonage agreement comes in the wake of significant public pressure on Comcast from Network Neutrality advocates, as well as an Federal Communications Commission (FCC) probe into the way the MSO has historically throttled some peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic during period of congestion.

In response to those pressures, the operator has pledged to migrate to a "protocol agnostic" platform by the end of this year, with tests already underway, or about to start, in at least three markets. (See Comcast CTO: Manage People, Not Protocols, Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure, Comcast Getting 'Protocol Agnostic', Comcast Ready to Test New Traffic Cop, and All's 'Fair' in Love & Bandwidth Management.)

According to Seitz, the agreement announced today will allow Vonage to get involved in Comcast's use of this emerging platform and ensure that its voice traffic is not affected by its deployment. Moreover, it will allow Vonage's and Comcast's network operation centers to "talk" to each other in real-time, he adds. "Part of this [accord] is us acknowledging that everyone that runs a network needs to manage it," so long as that process remains open, Seitz says.

Vonage is the largest over-the-top VOIP provider in the U.S., with 2.6 million subscribers, though the company couldn't say how many of those customers are running its service over Comcast broadband connections.

In addition to Vonage, Comcast has been busy carving out similar agreements with other third-parties, including BitTorrent Inc. , as part of an effort to demonstrate that network management issues can be ironed out without government intervention. (See Comcast: Feds Not Needed Here , Comcast, Pando Crafting 'P2P Bill of Rights' , and DCIA Takes Reins of P2P Project.)

The FCC has not announced an outcome from its probe into the MSO's network management policies, however.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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