Talk is rife with the stated wishes of telecom-based broadband Internet access providers such as AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to impose or negotiate surcharges for high-bandwidth content and services such as VoIP.
But rather than the looming battle over net neutrality that many (including yours truly) and I predict in Congress, the FCC and the Courts, the issue may be rendered irrelevant by data compression technologies.
I'm talking about new technologies that, in effect, will rearrange packet-consuming applications down to chunks of a size so manageable that big, established carriers might not be so insistent on extracting extra fees for carriage of those big, bad bits.
That's the vision held by a key VoIP industry figure whose company churns out some of those bits that the big telcos want to charge extra for.
I am talking about 8x8 CEO Bryan Martin, whose company is better known for Packet8. Here's their video phone.
Martin tells InfoWorld's Stephen Lawson that technologies that help service and content providers deliver good quality, such as video compression, are evolving so fast to make surcharges an irrelevant argument.
"I think you're going to see, basically, no application providers stepping up to supplement what the high-speed Internet providers are getting in their user fees," says Martin.
The very idea of surcharges ticks Martin off no end.
"It reeks, to me, of overgreedy and overzealous broadband providers," he says.
I don't disagree with Martin over the terminology, but I am not so convinced that better data compression will make big telecom turn into peaceniks when it comes to carrying services that compete with theirs.
We are talking "Ultimate Fighting" competition, people. Packet8, Vonage and others are competing with the VoIP component in big telecom's service bundles. And when you mess with a key element in big telecom's revenue strategy going forward, you not only are messing with their revenue projections, but with their infrastructure costs going forward.
And if you are a big telecom CEO who doesn't use all your weapons - as well as come up with some new ones- you are going to hear from your Board.
The fight is ahead. In fact, in a survey released earlier today by Consumer's Union (the Consumer Reports people), the Consumer Federation of America and Free Press:
- 72 percent of respondents agreed that broadband providers should administer their networks in a neutral manner.
- 47 percent said they believe that broadband providers will voluntarily support network neutrality principles.
- 55 percent supported a national network neutrality policy, with 54 percent supporting congressional action.
I guarantee you, big telcom won't take this lying down. They want to be the ones kickin.'
Big telecom and VoIP pure plays singing "Kum Ba Yah?"