Blocking VoIP

I’ve been following efforts to block Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) traffic – essentially, phone calls over the Internet – for the past few years. The OpenNet Initiative, of which I’m a member, has been keeping an eye on this as well; we noted in our study on Internet filtering in the United Arab Emirates, for example, that two people who used VoIP to bypass the state telecom company’s monopoly were imprisoned. Now, it turns out that the UAE blocks Skype’s Web site as well (to protect Etisalat’s position). Who blocks VoIP? Belize (which held a hearing), Mexico, Israel, China (with help from Narus), Qatar, Oman, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia… It even happens here in the States, although the FCC cracks down on this.

VoIP blocking is worrisome for three reasons. First, although telecom companies are primarily responsible for blocks at the moment, this tactic maps out a way for governments to increase control over how their citizens communicate. ISPs are frequently deputized to implement Internet filtering, as in Iran or Yemen. Information control through technology is path-dependent; once filtering systems are in place, states will often find ways to misuse them. Authoritarian states fear that citizens may use programs such as Zfone to communicate in ways that can’t be tapped or recorded.
Second, VoIP filtering undercuts the “end-to-end” architecture responsible for the Internet’s generativity and promise as a platform. Innovators need not ask permission of intermediaries before launching new applications that communicate across the Net – they can depend on the brilliantly “stupid network” to transfer packets for their program in the same way that Web pages and e-mail messages travel from user to user. Much of the network neutrality debate thus far has focused on the risk that Google will have to bribe gatekeepers such as SBC to permit users to access its search engine. I’m less worried about this possibility – any ISP that prevents access to Google will commit financial suicide as consumers flee – than I am about the threat that intermediaries will choke nascent, promising applications to protect legacy business models.

Finally, I’m worried about distributional considerations. When I visited Ho Chi Minh City in March, I was astonished by the number of people using VoIP in cybercafes to make cheap phone calls overseas – it was far more popular as an activity than Web surfing, and many cafes explicitly focused their advertising on VoIP. Using blocking technology to shut off VoIP calls, and thereby keep the price of voice communication high, effectively transfers wealth from citizens in developing countries to protected, often state-owned telco companies. The Internet offers the possibility of heavily reducing the cost of communication, and allowing people in Hanoi the same ability to access and share information as people in Houston. VoIP blocking threatens to throttle that hope.

18 Responses to “Blocking VoIP”

  1. [...] Derek Bambauer explains why we should worry about efforts to bock VoIP trafffic. [...]

  2. [...] http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/infolaw/2006/05/05/blocking-voip/  [...]

  3. [...] Derek Bambauer explains why we should worry about efforts to bock VoIP trafffic. [...]

  4. “Derek Bambauer explains why we should worry about efforts to bock VoIP trafffic’

    We are waiting for your explain too. Thanks

  5. everything is clear, so what needs to be explained???

  6. Is it possible to use VOIP as a full replacement of clasic phone service, as staded in this article?

    Using VOIP as Your Home Phone Service

  7. I definitely agree with this article. I was using Skype for many months to make calls overseas at a very nice price. Why restrict the use of VoIP calls? This was well-defined within the article and I totally disagree with what these countries are doing.

  8. “To question 6: Is it possible to use VOIP as a full replacement of clasic phone service, as staded in this article?”

    I would say Yes and No.

    Yes because:
    - You can make phone calls with a traditional phone (but you need an internet connection);
    - You don’t need to have your computer switched on all the time

    No because:

    - Quality cannot be controlled but you pay cheaper for local and international calls;
    - If you are relocating, you can bring your US phone number abroad;
    - DID (identification number) is not always forwarded. So when you make a phone call, the person receiving the phone call may not see your telephone number on his fixed or mobile phone.
    - With VoIP, you can bundle up mobile services

  9. While I certainly don’t want anything blocked, I have to say I used Vonage and I HATED it. That being said, free and low-cost phone calls are great!

  10. I recently wrote an article on how indian government is acting on behalf of a couple of influential telecom companies to block VOIP.

    Article can be found here: http://voipguides.blogspot.com/2007/04/india-to-ban-voip-skype-yahoo-vonage.html

  11. Well, restricting VOIP calls will be more and more in the future. Why? Protests, money everything has been involved. Even in the Netherlands where i am following it on my personal blog

  12. [...] If your phone number (VoIP or otherwise) is already public, you can block unwanted callers using Caller ID Manager from Privacy Corps, a $100 device that blocks up to 175 numbers, area codes or even prefixes while giving you the ability to receive calls only from specific numbers. Alternately, if VoicePulse is your VoIP provider, you can access a large menu of call-handling capabilities to block telemarketers and anonymous or unavailable callers, schedule do-not-disturb times and modify how your phone rings depending on the caller.Getting UnblockedFinally, if someone—whether it’s a telecom provider, your employer or your national government —blocks your VoIP calls by weeding out Skype or other VoIP packets, you have two major options. [...]

  13. [...] Derek Bambauer explains the legal ramifications of Service class blocking.  http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/infolaw/200… The Blocking VOIP by Zeroday 01100100011010010, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. [...]

  14. they can not fight forever by blocking voip.either they adopt this new techology or left behind.

  15. Which countries block VoIP, but also make it illegal and convict those who do?

  16. In Vietnam, VoIP is not blocked, but VoIP is working so worst!

  17. Great article. The husband and I dumped landlines for voip about 2 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Our friends are cell phone only but we only have prepaid so this works out. Thanks!

  18. Is VOIP still blocked in China? Does it illegal to used it in China?