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The issue of net neutrality has been regularly debated over the years and is something we’ve covered many times on this blog, but a recent report by ITSPA (the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association) identifies clear breaches of net neutrality by mobile operators with regards to VoIP traffic and raises new concerns for the industry. ITSPA have kindly agreed to share their concerns on this issue with us…

Guest article from ITSPA

Guest article from ITSPA

“VoIP (Voice over IP) is the future of voice services. As readers will know, VoIP provides new added-value applications and cost benefits to both businesses and home users. It will only continue to grow as the UK’s next generation network rollout continues. The technology has developed significantly in recent years, to the point where in many instances the customer experience exceeds that of traditional circuit-switched telephony.

Yet the thorny issue of network neutrality and traffic management has the potential to threaten the success of VoIP and other Internet-based services. As the UK’s VoIP trade association, ITSPA (Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association), believes that the blocking of Internet services such as VoIP is fundamentally anti-competitive and comes at a significant detriment to the consumer. Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that the fixed-line ISP community does not follow open Internet principles, there are documented examples of mobile network operators (MNOs) who block the use of VoIP clients on their networks, even though their customers are paying for the data traffic.

In the age of the smartphone – when customers are paying for their data traffic – ITSPA believes it is anti-competitive to restrict bandwidth for VoIP simply in order to protect mobile operators’ own voice revenues. And it comes at a grave cost to innovation, growth, and productivity in the UK.
VoIP in particular requires very little bandwidth – circa 100Kbps – compared to other traffic such as video streaming or peer-to-peer sharing. We cannot foresee any real justification to restrict bandwidth for traffic management purposes concerning these types of services.

A December 2011 ITSPA study concluded that most major UK MNOs either i) prohibit VoIP in their terms and conditions; ii) charge a premium for using it; and/or iii) actively block it. Furthermore, these policies were not transparent to the customers at the time of purchase.

Of course, this issue is of major concern to our members. But because the current situation will only deter investment in an ever increasing mobile data market, it ultimately results in less competition and innovation as well as higher prices for consumers.

ITSPA welcomes the Government’s desire to maintain an open Internet and believes that Ofcom’s position in its statement on net neutrality is an important step forward. However, significantly more work needs to be done to provide consumers with adequate information with regards to traffic management policies.

The industry is currently discussing potential self-regulatory solutions with the Government. ITSPA members are concerned as to whether a self-regulatory model concerning blocking and traffic management can be truly enforceable and whether Ofcom has effective powers at its disposal to act when required. Despite its frustrations, the Government is continuing discussions in March with industry and will then consider the action required to keep the UK Internet open for innovation and competition. ITSPA will continue to engage and push to ensure the most effective solution can be reached.

Finally, ITSPA is committed to making the case for a 4G spectrum license process that does not block or discriminate against third party VoIP or messaging operators. While the usual caveat applies that restrictions are understandable when necessary to preserve the quality of service of the network, unfortunately there is still no indication 4G would not suffer from the same blocking issues.

Quite simply, companies across the communications industry should play fair when it comes to VoIP and other legal Internet services, and help grow the UK economy in the process.”

Entanet’s View
We’re with ITSPA on this, even though we understand why mobile operators want to protect their voice revenues. As we’ve stated on this site many times before, we believe net neutrality should be protected and the blocking and restriction practices of MNOs that has been identified by ITSPA’s report are clear breaches of it. Such anti-competitive practices clearly illustrate the reasoning behind calls to enforce net neutrality.

It’s encouraging to hear that the Government is continuing its discussions with industry and we hope that the suggested self-regulatory solutions will solve this issue. If they don’t though, Ofcom will need to be prepared to step in and enforce this in order to protect innovation and eliminate this anti-competitive behaviour. Whether or not Ofcom has the power to do so effectively remains to be seen.

Since 2004, the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association (ITSPA) has represented network operators, service providers and other business involved with the supply of VoIP services to business and residential consumers. Visit www.itspa.org.uk.

Have your say!
What do you think about net neutrality and in particular the effects on VoIP from mobile operators? Do you think mobile operators should be forced to treat VoIP traffic fairly or do you think they are justified to restrict or even block it? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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