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CompTel Urges FCC For Stronger VoIP Port Blocking Laws

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CompTel/ALTS Demands Stronger Port-Blocking Action

July 7, 2005

By Staff

The CompTel/ALTS trade group, representing competitive communications service providers, has urged the FCC to take a stronger, formal stand and a clearer position prohibiting incumbent network owners from blocking rival Voip offerings and other emerging services. In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin on so-called "port blocking," the group recommended that the federal regulators "act swiftly and decisively to preserve unfettered consumer access to innovative Internet technologies."

CompTel/ALTS says its FCC move was drafted partly in reaction to last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Brand X Internet Services case, which upheld the commission's classifying cable-TV communications offerings as lightly regulated information services, thus exacerbating network-access concerns (TelecomWeb, June 28). At the same time, the group echoes warnings about port-blocking that were highlighted in March by a discretionary FCC consent-decree enforcement action against incumbent telco Madison River Communications LLC for alleged port-blocking of Vonage Holdings VoIP-oriented packet traffic.

"Specifically, I urge you to set a clear policy prohibiting network owners from port blocking, or otherwise interfering with the transmission capabilities, of service providers offering Voip services and other competitive alternatives," Earl W. Comstock, CompTel/ALTS president and CEO, wrote to Martin. "Such immediate action is crucial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in the Brand X case."

Comstock suggests the FCC/Madison River matter sent a correct signal that common carriers could not engage in the port-blocking of Voip service providers, but "stronger and clearer action is needed in the aftermath of the Brand X decision." He expressed concern that, although the high court reaffirmed cable-modem services are not subject to common- carriage regulation, the justices also made no determination on whether the FCC should apply interconnection obligations on cable modem-based or DSL-based information services.

"In so doing, the court did not reach the issue of port-blocking or other interferences with Voip service providers' abilities to offer their services over cable facilities or the facilities of incumbent local exchange carriers without degradation of their bit streams," wrote Comstock. "These important consumer-protection and competition-policy questions are currently at issue in several open proceedings before the commission."

He maintained opponents of Voip market competition may try to argue that a lack of commission authority over cable-modem services allows cable network owners, or any network owner offering broadband services, to port-block or otherwise interfere with Voip service providers' voice bits, particularly if "anti-competition-minded network owners" fear the rivals. As the market share of entrepreneurial Voip companies grows, the likelihood of such illegal blocking activity is likely to increase as well, due to the "threat" of competition brought by new Voip companies, according to Comstock.

"Accordingly, if the commission is serious about creating a regulatory environment that fosters entrepreneurialism in the advanced services market, it should unambiguously declare that all owners of public networks are prohibited from blocking, or otherwise interfering with, the data streams of entrepreneurs offering not only VoIP, but other advanced services as well," he concluded. "If the commission fails to seize this opportunity to bring pro-entrepreneur regulatory certainty to the market place, it will give an incentive to incumbent network owners to exclude not only Voip service providers from being able to transmit over their networks, but possibly all forms of data communications that may pose a competitive threat to those same incumbents as well."

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