Net neutrality: What does this mean for the future of VoIP?

cat5cableNet Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. (Source.) And that’s the way traffic flows across the internet today. But a recent court ruling may change that.

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the 2011 FCC Rules that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all Internet traffic equally. Verizon had challenged the FCC regulations based on the FCC not having a congressional mandate to regulate the Internet, and Internet providers not being classified as common carriers. The impact of the court’s ruling opens the door to tiered pricing models, and the potential “blocking” of content and services that are not favored by the ISP without an added-cost price tier that enables their use. (Source.)

It’s a fact that people are cutting the cord and cancelling their traditional subscription television services in favor of new media sources. Cable companies aren’t making the money they once were… Enter Net Neutrality. Most everyone is talking about Netflix in regards to Net Neutrality and how they’ll be impacted, because it’s an application that requires some pretty hefty bandwidth. Makes sense. ISP’s are probably getting hammered with traffic in every different direction with apps like Netflix, Amazon video, online gaming, streaming music applications like Pandora and Spotify, the list goes on and on. People aren’t giving up their internet connections. The cable company might be able to charge a premium to those customers who want a better experience when using those services.

It makes sense on the consumer side but what about for people using these connections for business? What happens when an ISP requires remote agents, mobile users, or telecommuters to require users to purchase a premium service to get reasonable voice or video quality. Hosted VoIP, SIP, Video Conferencing, and UC Feature sets are all dependent on having a service delivery capability that enables quality real-time experiences external to corporate networks. What does that mean? Communications over the web are real time, and sensitive to problems. An ISP traffic shaping can strongly affect the user’s experience, for better or worse. Anyone who relies on these solutions to get work done should pay particular attention to this ruling.

I’m not trying to be negative nancy here, this could be a good thing. A strong case can be made for the flip side of the coin, managing traffic and bandwidth can make for a stronger Internet. Unfortunately, only time will tell as to how this all plays out…