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How ISPs May Quietly Kill VoIP 388

ravenII writes "PBS's i'Cringley's informative piece gives an eye-opening look at the anticompetitive behavior of some ISPs who are showing up late to the VoIP game. This is not something that could be easily mandated, and the beauty of this approach is that they're not explicitly doing anything to the 3rd party service applications. They're just identifying and tagging their own services, which is within their rights."
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How ISPs May Quietly Kill VoIP

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  • Not fair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turtled ( 845180 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:02AM (#11982293)
    That's not fair. A new innovation comes and is sucessful, and people have to squash it wrather than create compition, which would in turn create better products and lower prices for consumers, yet possible revenue for the best player. I have vonage. I love it. $25 a month, it kills the same bill from SBC ($73/month, everything the same) and Verizon($93/month, everything the same)
    • by Travoltus ( 110240 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:23AM (#11982388) Journal
      The propaganda that capitalism is the most powerful medium for innovation, falls on its face here.

      Capitalism with sensible government regulation is indeed the best path to rapid innovation.

      Uh oh... did I just say that?!!
      • Duh.

        Obviously anarchy is the most powerful medium for innovation ;~0

      • by BobPaul ( 710574 ) * on Saturday March 19, 2005 @01:13AM (#11982620) Journal
        Running Linux is like owning a Lightsaber. It's "a more elegant weapon for a more civilized time."

        And it cauterizes as it cuts off your arm...
      • WRONG (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @02:11AM (#11982803) Journal
        we are where we are at, because of gov. regulation. Gov. allowed monopolies to be held and consolidated At first it was ATT. Then, they allowed a small number of cable companies who are quickly becoming just one company.

        The way out of this, is to either forbid monopolies(as in, allow competition in), or minimize the monopoly. Personally, I think that by minimizing the monopoly (fiber/cable to the home from the CO; NOTHING ELSE), society will be furthered as the interesting piece is in the service.

      • by hany ( 3601 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @08:34AM (#11983677) Homepage

        Well, IMO capitalism is good but has one quirk which nobody solved yet:

        Capitalism stops working well when "the thing" stops growing because there is no space to grow left anymore.

        There are stages (but beware, I'm not economist, that's just my observation or my opinion, whatever):

        1. While "the market" is in development and there is a lot of "land not taken", there are lots of businesses wich are growing and "taking the land". And there is competion and all the "fruits of competiton" which are good for customers.

        2. Once "all the land" is occupied, bigger businesses start to either eat or kill smaler ones. At this stage there is still competition but it's dissapiering as the number of businesses is dropping.

        3. Finaly "all the land" is occupied by one or very few businesses and that's when "the shit hits the fans". And that's what have to be solved somehow.

        One obvious and "easy looking" solution is to make "the land" bigger. But that (at the end) effectively means to make more people for which we need to expand into space. With that approach we can solve, mitigate or avoid "stage 3" till we reach another limit (like we fill all the glalaxy).

        Another ideas?

    • That's not fair. A new innovation comes and is sucessful, and people have to squash it wrather than create compition

      Um- did we put capitalism on hold here? If an ISP starts quashing VoIP traffic (or not handling it properly), consumers will, if it matters to them, move to someone who does things right. If it really matters to consumers, someone will charge a little bit more if they develop a reputation and guarantee(s), otherwise it'll be used as a tool of differentiation.

      Want an example of this? Sp

      • by bezuwork's friend ( 589226 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @02:21AM (#11982822)
        If an ISP starts quashing VoIP traffic (or not handling it properly), consumers will, if it matters to them, move to someone who does things right.

        That's part of the point here - if ISPs do it quietly enough, most consumers might not realize it. And for many that do, there's always that service contract - $99 if you stop the service before a year is up, for Verizon, IIRC. $99, I doubt that many will incur this cost in order to switch to a different ISP just for VOIP reasons only.

      • Hold on... while I agree with your point, Cringely didn't talk about ISP's quashing traffic - he talked about them enabling class-of-service for their OWN voice traffic and leaving foreign voip traffic in the best-efforts network layer.

        Engineering and maintaining a voice-quality COS on a network is expensive and difficult. Does anyone really believe that telcos or cablecos (having invested billions in building their networks) should hand this value over to Vonage etc for free? The reason Vonage can charge
        • The last time I checked, I PAID my ISP EVERY MONTH for service!! THAT payment guarantees a certain level of service. If the cable company or other ISP deliberately degrades this service with malice, then I can SUE. I forsee BIG TIME class action suits over this... Unless of course, the FCC steps in (as they already did once for Vonage).
    • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @07:17AM (#11983557) Journal
      Yes, there are some ISPs that want to kill every application that generates upstream traffic, so that any consumer in their right mind would buy services from somebody else. And there are third-world telecom monopolies or ex-monopolies that use their position to strangle new competition. (In the US, the worst offenders are mostly cable TV companies, but even in the bad old days of Excite@Home banning anything server-like, they understood that the main reason people bought their service was to file-share pirated music. And in the Pacific Rim, unfortunately Australia's telecom industry has a third-world attitude toward data users.)

      But fundamentally, the things Cringely's complaining about aren't accurate, because he doesn't understand the technology or the resulting economics. Yes, telcos are dealing with the threat of VOIP, and it's making their heads explode, and VOIP is much *much* harder to integrate with an old-fashioned telephone infrastructure than to run as a pure-VOIP business. (The technology's difficult, making it scale is difficult, different parts are centralized or decentralized, all the assumptions about who hands money to whom are different, the regulatory infrastructure doesn't match well at all, etc.) And the telcos are making sure that their data networks will support any VOIP services they develop with as close as they can get to traditional telco voice quality, and they're not sure how to deal with the fact that cellphones have convinced the public to accept lower-quality calls and newer codecs with much higher frequencies can support speakerphones much better.

      Some big ISPs happen to be owned by telcos, or by telco-wannabees like the cable TV companies. Most of them are working on adding CoS capabilities to their backbones, but that's the least critical part of the network because most of them own their own fiber plants, and it's cheaper for them to burn more wavelengths on their fibers than to add fancy engineering capabilities to their routers or to hire fancy engineers to run them. It's the friendly mom&pop ISPs (that Cringely's not worried about) who are most likely to have backbone congestion issues that need CoS support to prioritize VOIP over best-effort data applications, because they're running at a different scale and don't generally own their own fiber networks.

      The places that CoS matters most are the skinny parts of the network - the ingress from the customer's premises to the ISP's POP, and the egress from the ISP's POP to the customer's premises. The ingress direction is really a customer hardware and management problem, making sure that VOIP packets get on the wire before data packets, but service providers (including Vonage) typically handle that by forcing the customer's data through the same box that converts traditional-phone signals to VOIP, and software-based providers like Skype handle that inside the user's PC. This doesn't require the ISP to do anything, though it's sometimes cheaper to build those capabilities into the DSL/cable modem.

      The egress direction can benefit from CoS marking, or from other fair-queuing systems that share bandwidth between remote sites or protocol types, or even from dumber systems that prioritize UDP over TCP. In a symmetric environment, like most business T1 connections, this is the most critical part of the system, because data applications can drown out voice unless there's some QoS approach. But most consumer connections are asymmetric, with much faster downstream connections than upstream, so there's less of a problem. Also, in most home applications, if downstream bandwidth is the bottleneck, it's usually because of some application like downloading music that can be turned off or slowed down during phone calls, which isn't a practical approach in most multi-person offices.

      Cringely's arguments are especially bogus because the impact of backbone QoS / CoS features on network performance is much smaller than the impact of slow upstream connections in ADSL and Cable Modems. A 12

    • Re:Not fair (Score:3, Insightful)

      by matth ( 22742 )
      The thing is... Take this scenario:

      I'm with Vonage... it starts breaking up and has issues.... leaves a bad taste in my mouth for voip... why am I suddenly going to go to the cable companie's voip service????
  • This is a good example of where letter of the law and spirit of the law collide. The FCC lacks the expertise too adequetly monitor their charge. There needs to be another solution. Perhaps, more openness?
    • by cait56 ( 677299 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:31AM (#11982426) Homepage

      This isn't an issue that requires direct oversight.

      It requires clear labeling of products so people know what they are buying.

      One set of ISPs offers "Internet Service", by which they mean access to the web, and then a collection of other services that they will offer.

      And there is nothing wrong with them offering that service. It is what many, perhaps most, customers want.

      The problem is that it is not the "Internet Service" that others want, including most slashdot readers presumably. Which is basically unrestricted access to the Internet with at most a total bandwidth constraint (and protect-the-net restrictions like no forged packets).

      If an ISP is clearly labeled as providing "Internet Access" then they could not violate their service guarantees to you to favor their own traffic. If you want to use Vonage, host a server, select your own email provider, or any of a number of things that "power users" find desirable you would look for an "Access Provider".

      If you only have a vague idea of what the difference between VoIP and email is, then you probably want a "Service Provider" who will provide you with services and take responsibility for integrating them.

      The key problem right now is the ISPs are bluffing at providing open access to the Internet. There is probably a strong case that stealing from the common pool of "best effort" capacity without explicit disclosure.

      But the solution is not to restrict what business Service Providers go into, it's to make sure they clearly label what business they are in.

      • by r00t ( 33219 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @02:16AM (#11982814) Journal
        There just isn't any money in selling pure access to:
        • clueless types who should have bought service
        • a few odd nerds
        • spammers
        Even the nerds won't buy it, because normal service is way less expensive.

        Regulation is required because competition has been blocked, both legally by the government and economically by the prohibitive capital costs. You can't just get a business loan and start stringing fiber all over town. Probably you'd go to jail. If this were possible, the sky would be blacked out by overhead cable.

  • by Dancin_Santa ( 265275 ) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:04AM (#11982303) Journal
    So the main point seems to be that there will be a preferential class of packets that will be guaranteed to have some level of service such that the packets arrive quickly and in order. The bad part is that all other traffic will remain at the same old unguaranteed service level.

    Well, that's what we have now.

    Face it, the reason people use VoIP is because it is cheap/free, not because it has superior QoS than POTS. Throw in compression and encryption and you're talking about some pretty serious degradation of service.

    So, in summary, nothing to see here.
    • Well... VoIP technology is inherently extremely sensitive to both latency and jitter; this is why Cisco is trying to work with ISPs (their 'V3PN program', which always sounds like a Star Wars driod every time I talk about it) to get them to listen to QoS/DSCP values as set by the customer in their network. (Or to route DSCP tagged traffic into the appropriate MPLS TE 'VPN', or whatever you choose as a methodology)

      This, of course, raises huge issues for the general consumer, since those willing to pay what's probably a premium to NOT have their DSCP values stripped off at the edge of the network get further stomped, even without any form of 'anti-competitive' prioritisation -- the end users get squished first as they don't have a 'business class' service and the only real way for a backbone provider to make money is to over-subscribe their backbone and rely on the bursty nature of IP traffic to handle it. (At least, that was the plan when I was working with VERIO engineering a few years back; now I'm just a conslutant on the Cisco side... )
      • by Barnoid ( 263111 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:28AM (#11982411)
        now I'm just a conslutant on the Cisco side...

        is that the female form of consultant? ;)

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @01:02AM (#11982576) Homepage Journal
        Latency? A typical cell phone call can have more than a half second round trip. Try it some time. Have the person on the other end listen and start counting along with you. You're not going to even -approach- 250ms latency on the public internet unless you're doing transcontinental satellite hops.

        As for packet loss, for telephone conversations, most of the time, people will barely even notice a single packet being lost if you're doing things right. I mean, do you change phone companies every time your cell phone drops a packet? I didn't think so. It's par for the course, and you're used to it and probably don't even remember the last time it happened to you (which was probably some time today).

        This seems like much ado about nothing. Even on hops clear across the country without any QoS, iChat AV can shove freaking video streams. Compared to that, audio is a tiny drop of bandwidth. I just don't see how we'll get anywhere close to the limits of the backbones unless they put the priority for VoIP traffic lower than standard data traffic.... The mere notion just doesn't make any sense.

        QoS, like MS isn't the answer. It's the question. No is the answer.

    • by Mammothrept ( 588717 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:25AM (#11982395) Journal
      Call bullshit.

      There is something to see here and you are averting your eyes. The throttling scam works like this:

      Assume the total amount of VOIP traffic that wants to move across a telco's network is some number. Let's call that number 11 (think Spinal Tap). Now, of that 11, 3 is VOIP traffic from the telco's own service. The remaining 8 is Vonage, Skype and all the rest. Rather than fuck with the rest directly (illegal), the telco throttles total available VOIP bandwidth to 10 but assigns preferential QOS headers to the 3 that it profits from. Vonage and company now have to share the remaining 7 even though they need 8. Their quality suffers and they shed customers to the telco's VOIP service. As long as the telco tweaks the throttle correctly, they can bleed Vonage without breaking the law as currently written.
      • And the solution to that is eliminating monopolies on the pipes to the end-user.

        This is damage. It will get routed around.

      • Sure, a few ISPs may try to play games, but that's not the game they'll play - some third-world monopoly or recently-ex-monopoly telcos will block VOIP entirely, and some cable modem companies will do stupid things because they're incapable of not doing any stupid thing they can think of, but it's really few.

        Here's how it works technically:

        • Upstream bandwidth from customer to the ISP is often limited due to asymmetric technologies, and it's up to the customer's hardware to put the time-critical packets on
    • I disagree, if we group all types of Voice comm over the Internet, you have more choice than you would with POTS. With Cringley's point-to-point voice app, for example, or any PC-based voice app, the limit to the quality is the codec and the limit of your bandwidth. You can pull down audio streams that the sound quality of a land-line could never hope to match. There's a lot of leeway that the old tech just doesn't have.

      And because of this, I don't think it's going to be that easy for the reunified Bells t
    • Much is said about "quality of service", but in practice the Internet as been working quite well without any of that. In practice, Skype does work, sounds better than the average telephone, and does not use any particular priority labelling.

      The "best effort" service is far from being a "bad effort". The users want to download files fast, so the ISP has to oblige and provide bandwidth. They want to play video games, so the ISP has to oblige and provide good latency. Guess what, voice over IP requires less

  • by hot_Karls_bad_cavern ( 759797 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:06AM (#11982306) Journal
    When our call service can't reach me in order to help the world's largest retailer (you figure it out), then we'll see what ISP gets what heated phone call from whom. Hint: it won't be me, rather someone at bit less friendly with a much bigger bat.
    • Lessee, call doesn't get through? Sounds like Stuff*Mart will be going after your VoIP provider, not your ISP. If you have a residential internet connection, your ISP may trot out the T&C which says the service is for recretional use and if you want business class service, then you need a business class connection.

      Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if Stuff*Mart is too cheap to spring for a decent ISP.

      • Yeah, i know what will *really* happen; i'll have to go regular telephone, give in to the ISP (which won't give a rat's ass who says what), and deal. Besides, it'd be my company leaning on me to drop VoIP anyway if i can't "make it work" :) Hopefully my ISP will be cool with VoIP and just go with the flow ... hell, i don't pay them for 5mb/1mb for nothin'!! :)
    • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:50AM (#11982522) Homepage
      Yep. A friend's boss (who controlled one of the largest cell accounts in town) had his signal get dropped on the way to work every day, which caused him problems. So he called them up and said "fix it or we change providers." They put up a cell tower, "just for him." If you control money, they'll fix it for you.

      The problem is, you have to control money. They won't screw with "world's largest retailer", or if they are dumb enough to do it, they'll learn the lesson and from then on make sure their computers are nice to "world's largest retailer's" traffic. The problem is that when it's just grandma, they'll say "Hmm. That's too bad." or "We'll look into it" and nothing will ever happen.

      PS: As a side note, I've heard of the new boom business for VoIP: telemarketers. No long distance to anywhere, and you could call from your call center in India to Seattle for the same price you'd pay if your call center was in Wala Wala. At least the national Do Not Call list works (for the most part).

    • Uh-huh... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BobPaul ( 710574 ) *
      When our call service can't reach me in order to help the world's largest retailer (you figure it out), then we'll see what ISP gets what heated phone call from whom. Hint: it won't be me, rather someone at bit less friendly with a much bigger bat.

      If you're using a home Cable or DSL Modem for a mission critical application like this then I think you have bigger issues to deal with (such as your ISPs TOS). Otherwise this probably isn't going to affect you a whole lot. I don't foresee this causing too much
  • by datastalker ( 775227 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:09AM (#11982317) Homepage
    ...and just as you can tunnel just about any traffic you want through port 443 assuming you know what you're doing, you can encrypt traffic between networks. Granted, that will make things more difficult at first, but it will allow people to get around things like this.

    • No, it won't. You just de-prioritise ANY traffic other than your VoIP traffic.

      And without some form of prioritisation across a public network, VoIP becomes a flaky proposition at best. You have a 250ms round trip latency budget, and encryption adds to the serialisation delay on both ends and impacts this. Plus any out of order packet delivery or jitter will further impact voice quality, along with compression.

      And people expect their phone to work. All the time. Early adopters will tolerate the impact, but the money is in the commoditisation of the service and deploying it to everyone -- and everyone will not be willing to deal with a flakey phone.
      • Would this (hypothetical) 250ms latency also affect all OTHER traffic including games?
        • Sure it will. But, then the ISPs will either:
          1. Figure out the signatures of the games and not muck with them, or (more likely),
          2. Say that if you want online gaming, you need to pay extra for the reliability.

          I've seen this coming ever since I first heard about combination cable modem/MTA devices. People who have one of those will end up with far superior VoIP than those using Vonage boxes, not really due to any tampering with packets, but just in how the DOCSIS 1.1 architecture was designed.

          -- Joe
    • by katharsis83 ( 581371 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:26AM (#11982403)
      Actually, adding on another layer of encryption makes the problem worse. From the article summary:

      "...the beauty of this approach is that they're not explicitly doing anything to the 3rd party service applications. They're just identifying and tagging their own services, which is within their rights."

      The service providers are prioritizing THEIR VoIP traffic; so unless you can encrypt and then mask your VoIP service provider's packets to look like the ISP's, all encryption will do is increase the latency for voice - remember encryption/decryption requires time. The ISP doesn't explicitily delay Vonage's packets, for example, it simply upgrades the QoS priority of their own packets; this conveniently screws over 3rd-party providers like Vonage while not getting the ISP's in legal hot water.

      Encryption can protect your 3rd party call from evesdropping, but can only increase latency under this new sneaky scheme.
  • by Cryofan ( 194126 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:09AM (#11982318) Journal
    They would not DARE do this.
    But we do not have control of our politicians, our public servants. Why not?
  • send it encrypted either over port 80, or some randomization across ports, an have a large rolling bank if IP #'s through which traffic is routed.

    Telecoms can counter, but it won't be as easy unless they want to slow down their subscriber's other services.
    • end it encrypted either over port 80, or some randomization across ports, an have a large rolling bank if IP #'s through which traffic is routed.

      You obviously don't understand what's going on...

      They aren't determining what type of packet is a Vonage packet based on source or destination ports, or even singling out Vonage or other VOIP providers at all.

      What they're probably going to do is setting the packet priority of their in house to it's highest setting. Their internal routers will then see this prio
  • Packet shaping (Score:3, Informative)

    by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:10AM (#11982322) Homepage Journal
    I for one welcome our VOIP packet shaping telco overlords.

    But seriously, this has been a known threat for a while, at least it is a threat to every other P2P service on the Web. Universities routinely packet shape their networks, filtering out P2P filesharing programs, or giving them such a low priority it's as if you're using dial-up when using Kazaa lite.

    www.theswitchboard.ca looks like the gold nugget in that article.
    • P2P software I can see for a university, as web, email, FTP and other standard protocols are far more likely to be used for education. If academic use is being held back because of P2P at a University, then something is wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You know it's bad when the feature link in the "new" story is already colored dark from being followed.
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:11AM (#11982329)

    I get my Internet from wifi. There is also cable and DSL at my house. The electric company is talking about the IP over powerline stuff. I can go to someone else if they mess with my connection. Even if it isn't intentional, if the service isn't up to the level I want, I will go to someone else.

    Remember people, vote with your feet.

  • by Alpha_Traveller ( 685367 ) * on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:14AM (#11982336) Homepage Journal
    And on taxation alone with Congress enter the fray. Basically you'll be looking at a situation where Congress will step in, if only to provide a "regulating influence to ensure competition". And to make sure they finally get their hands permanently into the net and "free enterprise".

    You can bet they'll weigh in on this issue shortly, if the proceedings and back room deals haven't begun already.

    Companies like Vonage will be fine, but it won't be long before things like "Federal Subscriber Line Charge" and garbage like that begin sweeping in to cut profits and make it much harder for Vonage to conduct business.

    Be prepared to be taxed if the business is within the US, or is conducted in any way within US territory. It's coming regardless of your desire to see it or not. It's too big a honey pot to ignore.
  • Darwin Says... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:16AM (#11982348)
    Adapt or die

    VoIP is going to take over eventually. These attempts at preventing it will only slow it down a little bit. In the face of progress, businesses have to figure out when to begin adopting the new standards or they don't stand a chance.
  • by SamMichaels ( 213605 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:17AM (#11982352)
    People have mentioned encryption, tunneling, etc in the past...my question is: why wasn't this implemented from the start? Nothing to do with beating ISPs being meanie heads...but simple security for a private phone conversation?

    This looks like a MAJOR oversight here...a key-based/challenge scheme on negotiation and then compress the encrypted stream. Oh wait. I just described GSM (cell phone).

    Grant it, the ISP can tag packets destined for the VoIP servers...that'll take something else. Perhaps off topic, but this encryption oversight makes me wonder.
    • I actually engineer and sell Asterisk boxes to small businesses, providing VoIP inside the office, connecting to the pstn. Our device encrypts all voice traffic on the public internet (between offices, and from remote clients/road warriors).

      This article is of course mostly just stupid. Creating a vlan or QoS policy for VoIP will not cause the rest of the traffic to be crappy, not unless at least 50% of their actual traffic is voice traffic and that would require a whole lot of phone calls. VoIP is not r
      • I appreciate the reply...makes me feel better :)

        As far as blocking goes, perhaps a scheme where the VoIP unit opens a master data channel to the VoIP provider and then that channel will tell the unit what server to connect to and on what port...kind of like how FTP works. It'll be difficult for ISPs to figure it out when the ports are random, the data is encrypted, and the VoIP provider rolls their call server IPs.
  • by pyrrhonist ( 701154 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:17AM (#11982358)
    First he says:
    establishes a virtual voice circuit to your girlfriend in Bulgaria so you can listen to each other's heavy breathing.
    Then he says:
    Your grandmother wouldn't understand. Or she might if she's Bulgarian.
    Just what the hell is he suggesting here?
  • by Nimrangul ( 599578 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:18AM (#11982360) Journal
    Ok, I know you folk out there in will strongly dislike this idea, but I think that the phonelines should be taken from the phone companies.

    I think governments should control them and regulate phone costs to something reasonable. As it is all the phone companies as they are split up are just baby Bells, with their own small monopolies for local phone work, just as the old Bell had it's own big monopoly.

    Mind, I also think that water, power, heating and basic television and radio services should also be under the domain of a government controled company. So my opinion is a little more left on this matter than most people's.

    • I sort of agree. Local loop telephone cables are really a monopoly, and no company should be allowed to have a monopoly on a market. You're not going to have 5 companies put in their own telephone cables. So have basic infrastructure owned the government, and they can resell it at a reasonable rate to the companies who can then provide service to the customers. Same with power. Actually power is an even greater example of where this model is better, especially if nuclear power comes into the equation. Not e
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:19AM (#11982370)
    The argument he makes is that big providers will offer their own VoIP offerings, and will give their VoIP traffic precedence on their networks, in turn degrading service for all other traffic (and thus, competitor's VoIP traffic).

    However, without realizing it, he also explains why it won't happen. He argues that currently, all traffic is routed using "best effort". His argument then sxtends that these large organizations will effectively restrict other VoIP traffic as they give priority to ther own. I don't see how this necesarilly holds, though.

    Imagine a high bandwitch connection. A certain percentage of that bandwidth is the used to service the "preferred" VoIP traffic. This leaves the remainder of the bandwidth to be divided amoung the other traffic. For this to actually affect the competitor's VoIP traffic, the amount of preferred traffic must be large enough to use enough of the available bandwidth that the remainder is unable to service the remaining traffic effectively.

    Thus, this practice would not have a significant effect until a large amount of the VoIP traffic is "preferred" traffic - which supposedly would be the goal of starting to do so in the first place.

    The only effect that creating "preferred" traffic will have is to provide better service for that traffic. I think that the actual effect on other traffic (even competitor's VoIP), will remain small.
    • Also (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:58AM (#11982553)
      If the amount of prefered VoIP traffic was enough to screw over non-preferd traffic as low bandwidth as VoIP (80kbps in the heftiest implementations I've seen), it would also screw over all other non-prefered traffic including normal web traffic, FTP, etc. Well I don't know about the rest of you, but I get pissy if my transfer rate drops below 300KiB/sec, if it was less than 10Kib/sec, I'd be looking for a new ISP the next day.

      I'm not saying I particularly agree with the practise, but I hardly see it as being able to kill VoIP. If I have a fast broadband connection, I'll have more than enough bandwidth for VoIP. If that gets cut back, well then no reason to pay for it right? I'll jump ship for someone else.
    • by miu ( 626917 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @01:34AM (#11982679) Homepage Journal
      It doesn't hurt other VoIP providers by making them worse, even if they maintain their current service levels they will look bad in comparison to the lower latency, higher quality offering of the ISP.

      Since the ISP can send their VoIP traffic through dedicated virtual circuits (of whatever variety) and offload at preferential peering points (or to another subscriber on the same network) they can deliver a much better experience for their own VoIP apps. No more robot voice, random spots of dead air, or occasional electronic bursts, they can probably even do better e911 implementations - all those things will be very important for mainstream acceptance by people who expect VoIP to work exactly like their old land line.

      That is all well within the bounds of legality. Add in the fact that the ISPs will play around the edges of legality in finding ways to actually degrade competing VoIP traffic and cover their asses at the same time and there is an actual problem.

  • New ISPs? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by patdabiker ( 710704 )
    Why can't new ISP's crop up that don't do this? Wouldn't that be a big advantage? Or are barriers to entry too big in broadband?
  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:26AM (#11982405) Homepage

    And it wouldn't even be hard. All that'd be needed is an even-handed rule: an ISP can tag any kind of traffic they want any way they want, but they have to tag all of any particular kind of traffic the same way. If they want to give VoIP traffic priority over other traffic, they have to give all VoIP traffic on their network the same priority. Giving some (theirs) priority and others (the competition's) not would be a regulatory violation.

    • "Your Honor, we could not be sure that the traffic in question was VoIP or some other protocall (BitTorrent, streaming video, etc). As such we can not in good concience mark that traffic as VoIP. If we did, we could falsely degrade the service of our paying customers we are under contract with; and pretty soon everyone would try to disguise their traffic to look like VoIP because of the prefered servicee. Therefor we are unable to mark any traffic except our own as VoIP."

      The argument is simple enough. The

  • As a country (Score:2, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 )
    We really ARE out to fuck ourselves up.

    Seriously: Look at all the crap we do to ourselves, just in the technology arena alone. It's only a matter of time before we are sitting here, argueing with each other, trying to screw everybody else to get the sweet deal for ourselves, when some small previously third world country blows by us and takes the lead.

    Quite frankly, I'm disgusted by all the crap I have seen, and it's no wonder why other countries dislike us. I mean, if we are willing to do this to ours
  • Gets Worse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:37AM (#11982450) Homepage
    In his newest article [pbs.org], he talks about the Burst.com settlement, but in the last 3 or 4 paragraphs he gets back to the topic of this story... including this little titdbit:

    "And there are other dirty tricks available to broadband ISPs. Telecom New Zealand, for example, is reportedly planning to alter TCP packet interleaving to discourage VoIP. By bunching all voice packets in the first half of each second, half a second of dead air would be added to every conversation, changing latency in a way that would drive grandmothers everywhere back to their old phone companies."

    • Re:Gets Worse (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Vulture ( 248871 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:59AM (#11982561) Homepage
      Well, hell, anybody using TCP for voice communications gets what they deserve. I seriously hope that Cringely meant UDP.

      TCP is a poor choice for VoIP, because of the reliability factor (believe it or not). With something as free-flowing as a phone conversation, you would rather lose a packet here or there than wait for retransmission delays caused by TCP.

      -- Joe
  • by ewe2 ( 47163 ) <ewetoo@nOspaM.gmail.com> on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:40AM (#11982471) Homepage Journal
    ...which is, if the monopolistic telecoms can shaft Internet companies, they will. If 3rd-party VoIP goes away, that just leaves the ISPs themselves to scramble a deal with a telecom before they too get battered. And if NZ Telecom is already doing this, then our dear old monster Telstra here in Oz will shortly be doing an end-run of the Australian industry post-privatisation. I'd love to see their list of targets, it will be impressive.
  • by aqui ( 472334 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @12:44AM (#11982498)

    Technology and Free Market Competion

    1) Free Market forces:

    As you all know the ISP business is a very competitive business. If I am a paying customer and I am paying for high speed internet access, I will get this from my provider. This suggests that my packets will get these preferential tags for my internet (http, port 80 access).

    2) Technology
    Now if I use a VOIP software program that happens to:

    (a) encrypt traffic (err like Skype for example)

    (b) happens to run its traffic over an http proxy like mechanism through port 80 (which automatically separates the VOIP traffic from browser traffic), how can the ISP distinguish my VOIP packets from my internet packets?

    The answer is as far as I know they cant (I'm not a VOIP expert, so please correct me if I'm wrong). I'm guesing they cannot distinguish a long high bandwidth legitimate transaction (which I am paying for) from a VOIP conversation.

    It sounds like to me that innovation has changed the business model in the telecomunications industry, and players that missed the boat are now trying to compete by blocking these innovations...
    However since they're not innovators they don't understand that theses bumps in the road will be simply be innovated around.

    We heard this same argument in a different flavor about people being able stopping P2P filesharing before.

    But hey what do I know. ;)
  • A follow up to the March 3 column appears at the end of his March 17 column. [pbs.org]

  • by teksno ( 838560 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @01:02AM (#11982577)

    operator:"hello, 911 emergency."

    random person being killed my a madman: "HE...... ......LP... .........me. my address i...(10 minutes later)lane. HEL...P ME.....pleas.....eeeeeeeeeee"

    operator: "miss can you please repeat that."

    R.P.B.K.B.M.M.: I SA.......

    hours later police arive on the scene to find a psycho wearing our poor victams skin as a trendy new blazer. The coroner arrives shorlty there after and rules that the cause of death was none other then...LAG!!!

    wow i guess gamers had it right all along. lag really does kill
  • by idlake ( 850372 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @01:04AM (#11982588)
    You don't need special QOS guaratees or priorities for VoIP: regular TCP/IP service is more than enough for VoIP; if they degrade regular TCP/IP service to the point that VoIP doesn't work anymore, games and all sorts of other applications won't work anymore either. The thought that voice needs special networks or service classes is why telephone companies missed the boat on VoIP in the first place--they just didn't get it.

    The only way to kill VoIP is through explicit, service-specific filtering, and that's technically hard to do in general, and quite anticompetitive.
  • can qos packet tagging be used to our advantage? can you "fake out" the switch into tagging non-voip traffic to give it a higher priority as it moves through the network?
  • by bruns ( 75399 ) <bruns@NosPAm.2mbit.com> on Saturday March 19, 2005 @02:31AM (#11982847) Homepage
    An interesting thought - people are starting to get their 911 service through VoIP.

    What if, god forbid, because of providers tinkering with QoS, someone needs to make an emergency 911 call and can't or results in a call thats utterly unable to be understood?

    Wouldn't that make the ISP in question doing the tinkering liable for interfering with a life or death situation?
    • The current 911 and E911 systems in the US (for you non-US folks, that's Emergency calling or 999 or whatever) are designed with heavy dependence on a bunch of technical assumptions that weren't always valid for the traditional telco infrastructure and are less valid now. They didn't really like PBXs, and in some sense VOIP is like PBXs for everybody, and they certainly don't like mobile phones, though the control-freak FBI types have managed to bully the wireless companies into building location-tracking
  • by jonbrewer ( 11894 ) * on Saturday March 19, 2005 @03:12AM (#11982986) Homepage
    On the same topic this week, Cringely speculates...

    "there are other dirty tricks available to broadband ISPs. Telecom New Zealand, for example, is reportedly planning to alter TCP packet interleaving to discourage VoIP. By bunching all voice packets in the first half of each second, half a second of dead air would be added to every conversation, changing latency in a way that would drive grandmothers everywhere back to their old phone companies. This is because phone conversations happen effectively in real time and so are very sensitive to problems of latency. Where one-way video and audio can use buffering to overcome almost any interleaving issue, it is a deal-breaker for voice."

    This has certainly pissed off a few Kiwis, as seen on the NZNOG list: http://list.waikato.ac.nz/pipermail/nznog/2005-Mar ch/thread.html/ [waikato.ac.nz]
  • by Serveert ( 102805 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @03:35AM (#11983042)
    We just want a net pipe. We don't want you to rape us. Much like we just want unencumbered roads, we don't want a toll booth out of our driveway.

    Yet they fight municipal broadband.

    Profit maximization can only go so far.
  • but of course ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by porky_pig_jr ( 129948 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @03:47AM (#11983069)
    if ISP X has an agreement with ISP Y to pass the traffic through itself ('transit AS'), without any special considerations, it will do just that, as a best effort. Tagging? Of course, X will ignore any tags created by Y. X would be crazy to do otherwise. I used to work for ISP (which had AS 1. makes a good trivia question, eh?) so that's pretty much the rules of the game. This is incidently the main reason why QoS on the Internet (with a capital 'I') is practically non-existant. Since the backbone is privatized and fragmented, there is no real cooperation, only competition. I do what's optimal for my AS, and to hell with the global perspective (a 'hot potato' routing would make a good example). In such an environment I'm surprised VoIP works at all. In principle it ought to be less reliable than two tin cans connected with a wire. At least that wire is a point-to-point conneciton, not going through the hostile AS.
  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Saturday March 19, 2005 @05:51AM (#11983340) Homepage Journal
    It won't be long before people switch to TCP/IP over VoIP.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal