Vonage says Shaw not net neutral

A shift from broader bandwidth to higher quality of service forvoice over the Internet is being watched closely by the Canadiantelecom industry, with most analysts expressing concern that themove may jeopardize advances in technology.

Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc. recommends its high-speedInternet users pay an additional $10 monthly fee to ensure voicepackets travel first-class on its network, giving priority to VoIPsoftware ahead of other Web-enabled applications.

Vonage Canada has asked for a full investigation by the CanadianRadio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), callingthe fee a VoIP tax and accusing the telco of limiting netneutrality.

Shaw says the fee will pay for network multimedia managementtechnology — traffic shaping tools such as PacketCable 2.0, DOCSISand Ellacoya’s IP Service Control — that will ensure quality ofservice for common VoIP software such as Skype, Vonage and MSNMessenger.

Asking for a QoS enhancement fee is one way of changing themodel from offering faster and faster speeds, says Brian Sharwood,a principal analyst at SeaBoard Group Inc. in Toronto. “I’m notsure there’s anything particularly inherently wrong with that,” hesays.

Sharwood says market forces in Western Canada allow Shaw tooperate off a different model for quality of service on itsInternet network. Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc., forexample, has gone the other way, he says.

“Rogers feels it’s important that Vonage works on its Internetconnections at an acceptable quality level. But the market dynamicsare different: Rogers has 50 per cent of the high-speed market andwant to win more, whereas Shaw has about 80 per cent of the marketout West.”

Sharwood stresses the Internet should not be prioritized for theowner of the pipe and says Shaw’s QoS fee does present somequestions. “The customer is buying something that’s quite ethereal.There’s no visibility and there’s no way the end-user can measureQoS.”

Shaw’s concerns about voice quality are quite valid, but a lotdepends on how the company implements the services associated withthe $10 fee, says George Goodall, a research analyst with London,Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc.

Goodall says Shaw is justified in levelling the QoS fee. “Theseare genuine concerns around prioritization for voice packets, andit makes a lot of sense because they’re looking at differentiatingnetwork traffic. On a commercial level, these issues are top ofmind and businesses pay extra in hardware and service to ensurevoice quality,” he says.

But Goodall cautions: “We haven’t yet seen what this feeinvolves in terms of the technology and service levels.”

Shaw perceives that too many entities, such as Vonage, Skype andother peer-to-peer programs, are getting a free ride on itsnetwork, says Lawrence Surtees, vice-president and principalanalyst, communications research at IDC Canada Ltd. And Shaw is nowsaying it needs to have people pay for what they’re doing, headds.

“But the high-speed Internet user is already paying for accessto that service,” says Surtees, who agrees Shaw’s enhancement feeis a tax. “We learn as kids that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.Well, phone companies seem to have learned that if you don’t take,you don’t get,” he says.

Surtees says he’s seen a lot of this type of behaviour in thehistory of Canadian telecom. “Whenever there’s some disruptivechange, [the telcos] dig in their heels and use their clout, ortheir tolls, in these kinds of ways.

“They’ll develop something draconian and there’ll be aregulatory or legal issue and the companies will be told whatthey’re doing is unreasonable, but in the meantime they’ve pocketedall this money.”

Having transport-related charges in an Internet world iscounterproductive, says Roberta Fox, a senior partner with MountAlbert, Ont.-based Fox Group. “It could be detrimental to VoIPtechnologies and it’s not good for competition,” she says.

According to Vonage, Shaw is looking for a way to regain some ofthe costs incurred to make sure its network is built to handle thereality of an evolving Internet.

“Shaw needs to explain [its QoS enhancement fee] better becausewe think they’re violating the trust they’ve built up in theircustomer base, and the public in general,” says Joe Parent,vice-president of marketing for Mississauga, Ont.-based VonageCanada.

Shaw’s challenge is to minimize traffic contention and one wayof ensuring quality is subscribing to a different tier of service,says Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Communications.

PacketCable 2.0 and IP Multimedia Service, for example, givehigher quality of service to VoIP users than to somebody who justwants to browse the Internet. “It’s similar to the differencebetween T1 and OC192. There are different levels of service fordifferent types of applications,” he says.

“So if somebody wanted that greater assurance, we’re able toprovide it with DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service InterfaceSpecification) and some RF tailoring, as well as PacketCable 2.0 inthe future.”

Bissonnette says Shaw can also manage Internet traffic withtechnology from Ellacoya Networks, Inc. “We can only manage thenetwork as far as we control the network. Peer-to-peer can consumethe whole pipe if you let it, but Ellacoya allows us to manageBitTorrent-type traffic. There’s a host of things we can do andthey all cost money.”

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