Category Archives: Network Neutrality

Shaw fires back at Vonage over VOIP tax

Mark Evans writes that Shaw is firing back at Vonage over its complaint regarding Shaw’s $10 per month Quality of Service (QoS) fee for non-Shaw VOIP application. Although this issue has, and should continue to have, important considerations from a competition perspective, I think we also need to continue asking probing questions from a consumer protection perspective. In other words, if an ISP advertises a data connection with no monthly caps on data transfer and with a speed with X megs/sec of speed and then throttles it down selectively depending on the amount of use by a particular consumer, should that not attract some sort of liability from a consumer protection perspective? Likewise, if a service is advertised as providing “Internet access” and then certain ports are blocked, should the ISP not be forced to prominently disclose that information? Finally, the same issue if the ISP gives a higher priority to their services at the expense of competing services that a consumer may be trying to access.

Although not directly related, there’s also the issue of DSL and cable ISP providers advertising speeds “up to X” when (1) not every subscriber can actually obtain services at those speeds (ever) because the last mile links may not support it (my DSL link, which is advertised and sold as a 3 meg service, is actually throttled down to 1.6-1.7 megs due to line quality issues); and (2) the speed during “normal” surfing hours may be much lower due to the use of shared media or other network bottlenecks. We should have mandatory disclosure requirements so that consumers are able to make informed decisions.

P.S., I think its a good thing that Shaw is offering this optional “enhancement” – my concern has more to do with ISPs providing more disclosure on what they are doing so that customers can better understand what they are buying.

VOIP surcharged by Canadian ISP

According to a Vonage Canada press release, it has submitted a request to the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to investigate Shaw Communications (an ISP that serves western Canada) for recommending to its high-speed Internet customers that they pay an additional $10 charge if they use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service provider such as Vonage Canada in order to obtain a “quality of service enhancement” which is necessary to ensure independent VoIP service is not disrupted or degraded. The same fee is not separately charged to customers of Shaw’s own VOIP service. Shaw does not appear to have provided any details of how its enhancement works or why it is necessary. According to Vonage Canada, it wants to ensure that “the monopoly telephone and cable Internet service providers don’t restrict what services, applications or content Canadians can access. Canadians demand and deserve freedom of choice.”

Sounds like the CRTC needs to sit down with the Canada’s Competition Bureau and lay down some rules regarding network neutrality.

See also the write up by Mathew Ingram in the Globe.

Responding to the Network Neutrality Threat

Google, Yahoo, Vonage and other Internet content/service providers should develop a proactive response to the network neutrality threat. My suggestion is that each should start offering a bandwidth testing service. Add a little button on the home page for your customers to click and measure their network bandwidth and latency to your own site. Capture the data, including their ISP information, and build up a database. Next time another customer using that same ISP clicks on the bandwidth test button, show them your data ranked by the ISP providing the lowest latency. If any ISPs in the area start to implement a two-tiered structure where some traffic is given priority over your own, start running banner ads “click here for information on how to improve your surfing experience”so that customers can be redirected to competing ISPs that are not adversely prioritizing your traffic. Even if this whole network neutrality thing goes away, this will still be a useful tool for your customers to use.

Network Neutrality

Daily Wireless has a good article on network neutrality, including a number of good links. While this can potentially turn into a serious problem, hopefully new competition for the telephone company / cable Internet broadband access duopoly – from (i) WiMax, (ii) EDGE/EVDO wireless data, and (iii) power line delivered Internet access – will prevent this from occurring.

It is also possible that this is all hype being put out by the existing operators as a warning to companies like Google to think twice before branching out into the internet access business themselves. But just in case, it is important not to just ignore the coming battle. Jeff Pulver raises some good issues in his recent blog – what if the downgrading of competitor’s voice over IP service results in 911 operators being unable to properly take emergency calls.