How Will US Carriers Respond to the VoIP Threat?

The Growth of Mobile VoIP
The Growth of Mobile VoIP

VoIP Panic in Europe

As operators lose more and more revenue that has traditionally been routed towards the PSTN phone services to innovative Internet applications like VoIP, they are taking increasingly drastic measures to stem the flow. It should be obvious to any outsider that VoIP services are merely an extension of the Internet itself. Trying to stymie it because it delivers and competes with services that the telecom operator provides is like trying to block e-mail because it competes with SMS services. This week we have bad news out of Sweden where an ISP called TeliaSonera is trying to block the extensive use of VoIP by charging extra for mobile Internet traffic.

This desperate move is a clear indicator of the terror that telcos face when VoIP comes knocking on the door. Take the obvious analogy of an electricity company that charges you extra merely because you are using an appliance that is energy-efficient on the excuse that your power bills are reduced and therefore damaging its revenues! It's about time that telecommunication companies realized that they are merely a pipe that transfers bits to and from content providers and users.

To a large extent we haven't seen this kind of behavior take root in the US because the percentage of users that consume VoIP services is significantly low compared to the EU. Which begs the question – what will happen when the young and experimentation citizens of the United States begin to use VoIP more frequently?

Which Side Will the US Come down on?

I sometimes feel sad that the same battles have to be fought repeatedly in several countries over the same issues. Each time that happens there's a danger that the world as a whole will move backwards. The very fact that an ISP in Sweden is even thinking of charging extra for mobile VoIP traffic shows that they think that perhaps they can get away with it. In the Netherlands, such a move by the leading telecom provider drew widespread protests and catalyzed the emergence of a broad-ranging net neutrality law that prohibited operators from messing with Internet data. Such resolutions have been adopted by merely a handful of countries to date.

The battle lines are drawn in the US. Telecom companies are likely to fight any such move tooth and nail. And with Washington being as corporate controlled as it is, there is little reason to hope that such a move would be implemented anytime soon. Fortunately, US customers might just have enough power to raise a huge stink over the issue. Mobile VoIP phones are quickly taking away share from the traditional PSTN networks. As the amount of VoIP data usage continues to grow, those who are on the side of progress and technology will be watching the battle with bated breath.

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