Blocking without blocking

May 8, 2007
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Andy reports of a situation where CallVantage won’t work with Verizon FIOS,. This appears to be a case where the ActionTec router has a “technical incompatibility” that is of course, unintentional, according to Verizon’s PR representative.

Andy is pretty sanguine about it:

This is looking more and more like an AT&T vs. ActionTec/Verizon issue, likely tied to MGCP not SIP.

This is becomig the new way to provide discrimination by application, or Internet restraint of trade, if I were to give it a name. Many new Internet service packages now come with a specific provider-supplied router that is required for the service to work and is usually totally closed to the customer. We saw this a number of years ago where it appeared that BT was blocking VoIP and it turned out to be bugs in the BT Voyager 2000 router.

Recently we’ve started to see many similar reports with some of the triple play services. Even my old friends at EarthLink provide a special DSL box that doesn’t work with VoIP (not even EarthLink’s own trueVoice VoIP) unless customers disable the so-called UHP feature. At least Earthlink makes these settings available to customers, unlike many other providers.

Customers are not interested in the net neutrality aspects or long-term impact of this. All they say is “my computer and email work fine.” The third-party VoIP provider is left holding the blame.

Again, I argue that we need to create some formal definitions for what exactly constitutes “Internet” service. Does it mean I get an unfiltered public IP address that I can connect anything to, or does it mean I can run a web browser and email client? And what’s the spectrum in between those extremes and how do we classify and label it so consumers appreciate the difference?

This ability to block VoIP (or any application) with intentional or unintentional “technical incompatibilities” is a dangerous form of “accidental net neutrality” that isn’t making it to the radar of those supposedly speaking on our behalf like savetheinternet.com.

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One Response to Blocking without blocking

  1. Andy Abramson
    May 12, 2007 at 10:43 am

    If I recall SipPhone’s Michael Robertson first broached this subject around the locked Telephone Adapters that Vonage and D-Link were supplying.

    It’s the mobile operator model at work, and some try to apply that to VoIP.

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