VoIP Pioneer Worried About Net Neutrality Reclassification -- But Without It, Broadband Providers Could Kill VoIP Startups

from the respectfully-disagree dept

I've known Jeff Pulver for many, many, many years, and he is truly one of the earliest and most important pioneers in the VoIP (Voice over IP) space. He believed it was going to change the world before pretty much anyone else, and then set about helping to make that happen. The fact that so many voice communications now happen via VoIP systems are partly due to his pioneering efforts. Part of Pulver's efforts weren't just focused on making sure the technology kept improving and becoming more useful, or in just educating the world about VoIP (though he was instrumental in both of those spaces), but also in fighting the early regulatory fights concerning VoIP. Over a decade ago, we wrote about the efforts by some to declare VoIP a Title II regulated phone service, something that many states tried to do. Thankfully, in 2004, Pulver was able to convince the FCC to issue the so-called Pulver Order, declaring that voice services like Pulver's Free World Dialup (FWD) were not regulated under Title II, and were information services rather than telecommunications services.

This was the right decision at the time, and remains so today. Without regulating VoIP as as telco, it allowed some really great experiments and advancements, including more "phone replacement" services, to the fact that voice features are now built into lots of products today. Given that, I can understand why Pulver has come out vocally against efforts to reclassify broadband infrastructure players under Title II. As we've discussed, while we're wary of increasing regulations, in this case, we actually feel that Title II reclassification, with forbearance, is the proper result for the big broadband players.

Where I think the disconnect comes from is in the difference between the infrastructure providers -- building the core underlying pipes that make the internet work, almost always doing so with direct assistance from the government (rights of way, franchises, subsidies, tax rebates, pole rights, spectrum, etc.) -- and the services that are built on top of it. For example, without being able to stop broadband players from discrimination, those broadband players could, in fact, decide they want to block out VoIP players for taking away business from their own phone service. That's not a hypothetical. It's happened.

So I agree with Pulver that we don't want burdensome regulations on the services that exist on the internet. And I'll stand right beside him in arguments to extend any such regulations to those services. But, at this stage of the game, the big broadband players have become so powerful, and so anti-competitive with their terminating monopoly, that they have the ability to kill off all the kinds of cool and unique services that Puliver lauds in his article.
For anyone born after 1985, the idea of connecting with a relative on FaceTime, Skyping a friend traveling abroad or discussing a Halo mission with friends over a headset in real time is second nature.

But it's equally true that these services might never have come to pass without significant efforts over a decade ago by many in the Internet community to keep government regulators at bay as they actively considered how to regulate one of the forerunners of these technologies -- a novel Internet-based communications service called Free World Dial-up (FWD).
He's right about that, but he's underestimating the flip side problem: if the Comcasts, Verizons and AT&T's of the world are too powerful, we wouldn't have that either, because they'd make sure to degrade or block such services, driving users to their own services, or requiring innovative services like Pulver's to pay a toll just to reach their subscribers.

We should certainly be careful about excessive government regulation, but just as equally we should be wary of monopolists with the power to block out innovation. Just because Title II is the wrong solution for most internet services, it does not automatically mean it's wrong for the underlying infrastructure.

Filed Under: common carrier, fcc, jeff pulver, market power, net neutrality, reclassification, title ii, voip


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Adrian Lopez, 23 Sep 2014 @ 10:35am

    Very good points, Mike, but I wonder: Is the current FCC prudent enough to leave information services alone while adopting Title II for the "pipes" side of things? Title II seems like the right choice for "pipes", but I'm not sure I trust the FCC to make the right decision.

    How do we ensure the FCC makes (and continues to make) the necessary distinctions between services and infrastructure?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Sep 2014 @ 10:49am

    Maybe it's a question of forbidding infra-structure companies from operating content or service providers as well? If the ISPs didn't have associated cable, phone they wouldn't be interested in giving them priority? But charging twice would still be an option so there is that. Was just wondering.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:05am

    Quack Quack

    "Thankfully, in 2004, Pulver was able to convince the FCC to issue the so-called Pulver Order, declaring that voice services like Pulver's Free World Dialup (FWD) were not regulated under Title II, and were information services rather than telecommunications services."

    Give a chance, I imagine the Supreme Court would eagerly change that with one of it's infamous "duck" tests.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:22am

    Nothing is black and white.

    Only the naive believe that things are black and white. The idea that regulation is bad, or regulation is good is a naive view. Clearly, regulation can be both bad and good, depending on the type of regulation, its effects and the environment that the regulation affects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:59am

      Re: Nothing is black and white.

      The problem we have here is that you have people pointing to old protocols that were developed at a point in time where monopoly cable companies weren't in a position to "strangle the baby in the crib". The Mad Max approach to the Internet worked in the beginning because you didn't have any alternative gatekeepers yet.

      Governments are the only entities that should get to act like governments.

      That's the basic problem with monopolies.

      The FCC is only needed because Comcast wants to play the same role.

      Big business is just as dangerous as big government for much the same reasons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 12:03pm

      Re: Nothing is black and white.

      True, but mostly it is the classic "the devil is in the detail". That is something most popular discussion of laws lack. It requires some more education of the watcher, but it would be a huge improvement over current discussions in main-stream media. Also, I would love if this blog could find some industry insiders explaining more specifically what they see as the situation and bring some numbers on the table about different scenarios. That would make for a better end-result.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:30am

    Internet access needs to be as boring - and as reliable - as electricity access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:42am

    To be pedantic

    Mike,

    To be pedantic, blocking VoIP has nothing to do with infrastructure, but is a "service" itself (much like blocking DDoS attacks is a service).

    I commented on your last big Network Neutrality post coming across as a "shill" (your words ;) before explaining that I think inducing competition (however that can be done, if it can be done) would fix the Net Neutrality problem without regulation (and I have no evidence to back up my believe). In other words, we both agree on the same goal.

    This becomes a very gray area. How do you differentiate between a service and infrastructure? Physical fiber is definitely infrastructure, as are routers, servers, etc. But, the server software and routing algorithms and network protocols are all "services" running on the hardware. I think there is probably a good way to include network protocols, routing algorithms, etc, with the physical infrastructure. This boils Net Neutrality down to "if I send something out on the wire, it will reach its destination as long as the physical infrastructure is in place".

    I still don't know how to handle DDoS attacks and spam with Net Neutrality in place. Do you allow ISPs to block them, or is everyone expected to have their own network monitoring software in place (which would fall under the category of "service") to drop suspected DDoS packets, malware, etc? DDoS's affect people other than the target, so is it worth dropping those packets before they spread throughout the USA's infrastructure?

    I've been flip-flopping a lot on the issue of Net Neutrality. I'm inclined to argue that everyone should be expected to implement their own defenses, but it's unrealistic to expect 300+ USA citizens to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Adrian Lopez, 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:59am

      Re: To be pedantic

      Don't regulate the software, routing algorithms, or network protocols. Regulate infrastructure providers as legal entities without focusing on technical minutiae.

      Is this possible under Title II? I don't know, but whatever approach the FCC adopts should limit its scope to companies that provide physical access to the Internet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 12:07pm

      Re: To be pedantic

      The differentiation between infrastructure and service is at the packet boundary. That is the transport of TCP/IP and UDP packets is infrastructure, protocols built on top of these are a data service, be it DNS, HTTPS or VOIP.
      Note, DDOS mitigation is usually handled at a service level via a caching service used to also reduce the load on the backbone by holding data nearer to end users.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Hero, 23 Sep 2014 @ 12:25pm

        Re: Re: To be pedantic

        The first part makes sense. Draw the line at the Transport layer (although, it would be a pain in the ass to develop something better than TCP/UDP because of Title II regulations).

        Second, How does caching mitigate DDoS? The only case I can see is if your browser caches a page that gets updated very rarely. This is a rare case indeed. If you're logged into an SSH session, FTP session, want to send an email, want to view a dynamic web page, etc, etc, etc, caching will not mitigate DDoS.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 12:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: To be pedantic

          Second, How does caching mitigate DDoS?

          Your starter for 10 Cloudfare.com which is what Techdirt uses. There are other CDNs available.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Hero, 23 Sep 2014 @ 3:21pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: To be pedantic

            That doesn't even touch the fact that DDoS's increase congestion to the point of harming other legitimate connections that use the same paths through the network. I won't be able to connect to whatever.com's CDN if a link along my network route is overloaded.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 12:32pm

      Re: To be pedantic

      DDoS is a legitimate concern, but to be able to just throttle DDoS from an ISP-point when it hits an internet company seems a bit communication demanding, has some heavy potential for wrongful blocking and will not on its own solve the problem. Many internet companies have found ways to deal with DDoS, like blocking recurrencies, redirecting to dummy servers or in other ways protecting systems. I would say security like that should be part of the basics when dealing with professional programming.

      For or against net neutrality comes down to the role you want ISPs to fill: If you see ISPs as the big interventionalistic power, avoiding it could make sense. But it would make a slippery slope case for the future of ISPs to legally expand x-strike models or throttling in case of piracy or suspicion of such. Those seems like even more problematic interventionalism.

      Many would like ISPs to stay more neutral in those contexts. Net neutrality is a way to keep them from intervening too strongly. While it is not a perfect tool it doesn't hold as many indirect threats of intervention as not using it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2014 @ 1:09pm

      Re: To be pedantic

      "I've been flip-flopping a lot on the issue of Net Neutrality. I'm inclined to argue that everyone should be expected to implement their own defenses, but it's unrealistic to expect 300+ USA citizens to do that."

      Umm, no. 300+ USA citizens should be free to choose their own defenses and not have their ISP's decide what to "protect" them from.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 24 Sep 2014 @ 7:41am

      Re: To be pedantic

      I still don't know how to handle DDoS attacks and spam with Net Neutrality in place.

      Spam isn't at the infrastructure level, so that's a red herring. And I don't see how blocking DDoS attacks would be a NN violation as long as it's done without regard for the origin of the attack.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    brtech (profile), 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:53am

    Yes, Please Title II, but with NO SERVICES

    I do think Title II is the best way forward for Internet service.

    The thing I would like to see is that the utility that provides Title II regulated Internet Service be prohibited from providing any service beyond DHCP. Make it a true utility, with a guaranteed rate of return, just like power and water, but disconnect the services from the infrastructure.

    If you allow services to be provided by the infrastructure provider, you are always in a fight to maintain equal access. So, don't do that. We're pretty much there in many states with electricity and gas, and we should do it for Internet too. The incumbents can split between the regulated and non regulated portions, much as some power companies have both transmission and generation subsidiaries, but because there is a very bright line between them, it's easy to make sure that all service providers are treated equally by the transmission (or in our case Internet) provider and there is no cross subsidization of unregulated services by the regulated infrastructure subsidiary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 23 Sep 2014 @ 4:55pm

    if the Comcasts, Verizons and AT&T's of the world are too powerful, we wouldn't have that either, because they'd make sure to degrade or block such services, driving users to their own services, or requiring innovative services like Pulver's to pay a toll just to reach their subscribers.

    This is a gross overstatement.

    These companies realize that if they degrade the internet experience to the point of making it useless, people will not pay - or a competitor will be able to successfully enter the marketplace and grow by offering what these companies are "blocking". Quite simply, out and out blocking of LEGAL services is just not a functional concept for ISPs who want to keep business.

    Yes, they will give preference to their own services. FioS will always have bandwidth for their TV services, even if other services have to fight for bandwidth. Cable TV will always get their cable signal through regardless of network congestion, and phone companies will always have the phone working even if the internet is full of people pulling down stremaing video and making VoIP stutter. Those things are unavoidable because their have set the technology up in that manner, the internet was an addition to their services, and not the root.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 24 Sep 2014 @ 3:37am

      Re:

      Nobody is talking about blocking services but rather degrade them to the point they are useless if they don't pay or if they compete with services the company that owns the ISP.

      Yes, they will give preference to their own services.

      That's why the service should be reclassified so they are forced to treat all packets equally.


      Cable TV will always get their cable signal through regardless of network congestion

      Yes but on the internet side every single service will suffer equally with the congestion, not only Netflix.

      and phone companies will always have the phone working even if the internet is full of people pulling down stremaing video and making VoIP stutter.

      Indeed but along with the VoIP services all the rest of the internet access will be shitty, not only VoIP.

      Those things are unavoidable because their have set the technology up in that manner, the internet was an addition to their services, and not the root.

      Indeed. But you are being very, very, very dishonest here. As I pointed out the entirety of the access to the internet will be damned if there is congestion. What we are talking about here and you are refusing to acknowledge is when the ISP gives priority or degrades connection to ONE online service (or a group of competing services) while the rest runs in another level (ie: faster than the intentionally degraded services or slower than the intentionally prioritized ones).

      I'd give you the benefit of doubt but by now you've proven enough times you are just being obnoxious. But it doesn't hurt to call your bs so here's my contribution.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fgoodwin (profile), 24 Sep 2014 @ 8:16am

    ROW is not a subsidy

    Mike, you should know better.

    Cable companies pay for the right to occupy the public right of way, it is not a subsidy to them.

    Ever heard of a franchise fee?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cable_television_franchise_fee

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 24 Sep 2014 @ 8:32am

      Re: ROW is not a subsidy

      Cable companies pay for the right to occupy the public right of way, it is not a subsidy to them.

      It could be a subsidy if they're charged less than whatever the market rate would be. If it's even possible to calculate a market rate for such a thing...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 24 Sep 2014 @ 11:28am

      Re: ROW is not a subsidy

      Paying a small amount for the right to a monopoly is still a subsidy...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Graves, 25 Sep 2014 @ 3:05pm

    We're still thinking in old ways....

    The vast majority of the debate about NN is coming from old ways of thinking about networks, network administration, billing, etc. The old ways likely won't serve us well into the future.

    It used to be easier to discern this from that on the network. There was less streaming anything online. Now streaming traffic dominates the internet, but it's not all equal.

    Real-time performance for music, voice & video perhaps should cost more than IM or email. That is, as long as the network provider delivered guaranteed performance.

    It doesn't mean that phone calls need to cost more. Rather, email and IM could be cheaper that they are now. All traffic is NOT equal. It places very different demands on the network.

    I've come to appreciate Martin Geddes principle of a marketplace for network performance.

    http://www.martingeddes.com/differentiated-broadband/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Graves, 25 Sep 2014 @ 3:42pm

    Something recent by Martin Geddes

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.