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Bits & Bytes e-zine, Vol2 #7 VoIP Controls: Authority or Abuse?

The following is an excerpt from a presentation to the JCS Western Chapter on the topic:"VoIP Controls: Authority or Abuse?", on July 24, 2014 at The Montego Bay Community College Campus.

Presenter: Carlton Samuels*

Let us first establish a distinction between circuit switching and packet switching. Circuit switching was traditionally used in the analog Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to complete voice calls on dedicated copper wire circuits. This later evolved to digital switches. Packet switching is associated with the development of the internet, and with Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). International calls were routed through PSTN voice gateways and terminated in a destination country which would have an agreement in place between carriers on a “net fee” basis. A “voice by-pass” would circumvent theses gateways and arrangements and profit from it. The internet has become the preferred media for transmissions and with it, a new set of challenges.

One mobile service operator in Jamaica has blocked VOIP services such as Viber and Nimbuzz in a number of jurisdictions and give varying reasons for each: In Haiti, the reason was for QoS; In T&T as was for Jamaica it was for “illegal bypass” and in Fiji, there was no particular reason given. Another reason given in Jamaica was ostensibly a breakdown in commercial arrangements.

In my own experience at a telecoms provider in the USA (prior to the monopoly being broken), thousands of calls are made daily through these gateways to Jamaica. When we look at the Jamaican laws and regulations, the term “voice by-pass” is defined in the Telecommunications Act of 2004. A closer look at the definition requires that the definition of an international voice call and fees associated with any service outside of this definition. Since many telecom providers now use the internet for call transmission, there needs to be definitions that encapsulate the concept of a common carrier, and that “voice calls” be redefined in the context of data packet transmissions. The income from taxes on international call termination fees that accrue to the Universal Service Fund (USF) would be affected by such redefinitions.

Consumer laws that govern service delivery should come to bear on the Quality of Service (QoS) of data service providers, to ensure that what is promised as a broadband service is delivered consistently. For us it is fairly easy to check the bandwidth of our connections. Any network speed test will give you that. So if we can demonstrate that over a particular period, the speed test results indicate sub-par service, then the service provider should be made to answer to that concern. While the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) is currently holding consultations, the issues include:

1. How to handle unilateral action (even for a breakdown in commercial arrangements) by any service provider

2. Providers using deep packet inspection to identify traffic details

3. The data behind the reason that blocking was done

4. How to qualify QoS issues

With the advent of smart phones, now the spoken word is not always voice calls. Voice notes, music, etc can all be transmitted as data. How it is used and interpreted is done by the mobile application (or Apps). Additionally, some of these Apps offer the service for free. Some allow transmission from device to device without reference to international borders. When does the “call” become “international” during the routing of the data packets? Even as Jamaica is set to become an Internet eXchange Point (IXP) along the internet “backbone”, there will no longer be the need to route outside the island for IP addresses source and destinations that are local. This IXP is to be hosted at e-Gov Jamaica.

Finally there is the issue of Net Neutrality. This concept of Internet Governance holds that all data traffic is to be treated equally and without bias to source, destination or content. I would like to say here that I wish more ICT professionals would get involved in Internet Governance. It is an essential area that developing countries should be especially involved in. If the principles of net neutrality are adhered to, it has implications for the business model of all ISPs as well as other enterprises that use the internet for service delivery, cloud services etc.

* Carlton Samuels is actively involved in the policy development process of the Internet’s Domain Name System. He’s served as a member of the Strategy Panel reviewing ICANN’s role in the Internet Governance Ecosystem as well as a member of the Expert Working Group for the Next Generation Registration Data Directory Services for the Internet. He was formerly a Vice-Chair of ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and a founding Director of the Caribbean Internet Forum.

He has held several senior executive positions in private sector and academic environments, most recently as CIO and University Director of IT at The University of the West Indies. He now works mostly as an international ICT4D consultant specializing in policy, strategy and regulatory affairs and is an adjunct lecturer in Information Science in the School of Library and Information Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Education, the UWI at Mona. He was recently appointed by the Cabinet of the Government of Jamaica to chair the National ICT Advisory Council of Jamaica.

Category: Bits & Bytes