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Government Intervention on the Internet Is Necessary to Protect VoIP

Updated on March 13, 2012

The Shortsighted Laissez-Faire Approach

A raging debate these days is whether or not the Internet needs to be regulated like other utility services such as power and water. Opponents of such regulation point out that the Internet has worked well so far without any such oversight and this trend needs to be continued. Those arguing in favor of government regulation provide their own counterarguments demonstrating that left to themselves, Internet service providers or ISPs take unjustifiable steps to restrict, throttle or otherwise penalize applications which they deem to be harmful or competitive to their own offerings. At heart is the issue of net neutrality.

We have repeatedly seen however that without government oversight, ISPs show step motherly treatment to P2P applications as well as innovative services like VoIP. The reasons could range from being afraid that VoIP services will cannibalize their own telecommunications services to concerns about bandwidth hogging. In the United States, fixed line net neutrality is more or less followed without oversight. Companies that have tried to indulge in traffic shaping have found themselves in a tight spot after their practices were exposed. The mobile landscape however is an entirely different beast.

ISPs openly claim that they need to manage traffic differently on mobile networks than fixed line ones.

VoIP and Net Neutrality
VoIP and Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality on Mobile Devices

Services like VoIP have really taken off in the mobile arena. Even if all the VoIP applications available on the market don't subscribe to a standardized protocol, they are invaluable in getting the public used to the idea that you can communicate over the Internet far more effectively than with a traditional telephone service. For this reason, it is important to protect such innovation by enshrining the principles of net neutrality into law.

Disappointingly, companies like Google and Verizon leave the door open to traffic shaping on mobile networks with their recent submission to the SEC regarding the issue of network neutrality. Presumably Google has to pander to the interests of carriers in order to further its own Android operating system to compete with IOS. But this is a disappointing position to take nonetheless. The policies of countries outside the United States have a bearing on us who sit inside it because services like VoIP are specifically designed to ignore geographical boundaries.

Recently accusations have been leveled at several large ISPs in the EU with regard to slowing down or blocking P2P and VoIP traffic. This is a worrying trend and one that we in the US should not get complacent about. We never know when a handful of oligarchic corporations controlling the Internet might decide that net neutrality needs to be tossed out of the window. When that happens we won't be able to do much about it. Prevention is far better than a cure.


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