Sunday, May 15, 2005

VoIP Regulation? 

Jeff's outstanding essay "E911/VoIP: Death of the Broadband Parasite in the USA?" served me as an eye opener and untied a knot in my brain about VoIP regulation, especially when he is citing his paranoid friend:

My friend's conspiracy theory highlighted three parallel activities: numbering; lawful intercept (CALEA); and emergency response (9-1-1). My friend suggested that, at the calculated moment, certain powerful forces from inside-the-Beltway would take action and put an incredible amount of pressure on government and industry to apply legacy thinking to kill innovative technology. I believe that, so far, we have, more or less, adequately kept at bay both the numbering and lawful intercept issues (although I am convinced these issues wait in the wings to further devastate IP-based communications advances). ...

No Jeff, numbering has not been kept at bay, because both CALEA and E911 are tightly coupled with numbering. E911 is all about using emergency numbers and CLI for identification and so is CALEA.

But all this is not VoIP Regulation. Let's step back and reconsider what VoIP stands for: VOICE over INTERNET protocol. Voice (and other communications) over the Internet is (currently) out of the reach of regulators and is not regulated by what is called "VoIP Regulation".

"VoIP Regulation" is only able to step in if voice (and only voice) communication is touching the PSTN:
  • if a voice call originating on the Internet is terminating on the PSTN (needs a phone number)
  • if a voice call originating on the PSTN wants to reach somebody on the Internet (needs a phone number)
  • if a POTSoverIP phone (duck phone) wants to make or receive a call (needs a phone number)
  • if one wants to make an emergency call to a PSAP connected to the PSTN (needs lots of phone numbers)
  • if you want to intercept a phone call at a PSTN gateway (needs a phone number)
Trying to intercept genuine voice communication on the Internet is not easy to begin with and can easily be prevented by encryption (e.g with Skype or VPNs).

So "VoIP Regulation" is not dealing with VoIP, it is dealing only with VoIP touching the PSTN and all these issues are connected with numbering. If a VoIP provider needs a number for his customer to be reached from the PSTN or display a proper CLI for call back, gotcha. If you want to provide emergency calls (at least in i1 or i2), you need a number for ANI and callback, gotcha.

I always advised against this development, because it would introduce an unnecessary divide in global communications, namely driving broadband communication to IP-only and creating complications for the consumers, but in the mid-term will kill the PSTN faster then otherwise.

The reason is that if the tipping point is reached and more people will be connected to broadband, the PSTN will die very quickly. One should not forget that in Europe mobile penetration is reaching already 100%, which implies that every person has at least one broadband access capability.

For genuine Skype-Skype or even SIP-SIP with URIs you do not need a phone number. You also do not need a street address to receive an e-mail.

And of course these development will also kill the "broadband parasites". These are living on arbitrage only. If finally there is only "free" IP-IP communication and no real "service", only an applications and products, there is not more business case for specific VoIP providers then for e-mail providers.

Of course there will be some business left for residential users not having company accounts, but they will get VoIP service as add-on to the access, similar to e-mail and a 10MB webpage.

Update: And one should not forget that ECRIT and NENA I3 is working on emergency service access genuine on the Internet

"Trying to intercept genuine voice communication on the Internet is not easy to begin with and can easily be prevented by encryption (e.g with Skype or VPNs)."

Lawful Intercept isn't that difficult if you know the access POP. Also, encryption doesn't prevent interception of info, it just makes the interpretation of the intercepted information more difficult. In addition, the source/dest. IP address is still in the clear.
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