While much of the debate about net neutrality has focused on big telcos like AT&T and Verizon (in no small part because their execs have been the most vocal about how service and content providers should have to pay them), one of the few areas where net neutrality and service-blocking has been an actual problem has been with smaller telcos and VoIP services. Fingers have been pointed at the big carriers, but it was a small rural carrier that was fined for blocking Vonage, while small wireless ISP Clearwire also tried to block it. While it's not directly about net neutrality, in a related issue, Time Warner Cable had complained to the FCC that some rural carriers in South Carolina and Nebraska -- which generally have a monopoly on local landline service -- had refused to connect calls from its VoIP subscribers, making it rather difficult for the company to offer a competitive service in the areas. The local telcos' argument was that the FCC hasn't treated VoIP like a telecom service, so they weren't required to treat it like one and connect the calls, which were being routed through wholesale providers like Verizon, and local regulators had backed them up. But despite the FCC's general treatment of VoIP as an ugly duckling, it ruled this week that the rural telcos must connect the calls and allow VoIP providers access to local phone numbers, so they can offer them to their subscribers. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in a statement about the ruling (PDF alert), says that the Commission "must promote competition... and create a level playing field" -- that's really little more than double-speak, but in this instance, it made the right call.
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