In the wake of reports that Google Voice is blocking calls to “traffic stimulator” sites (like free conference calling and free porn sites), Speakeasy has now changed its terms of service to explicitly block calls to these sites with its VOIP product. To its credit, Speakeasy directly informed its users (a friend forwarded me the email reproduced below). But this now elevates the question of VOIP providers and calls to a new level.
The FCC has danced around the regulatory status of “interconnected VOIP providers” (meaning VOIP providers that connect to the regular public switched voice network (or PSTN)). It has required regular phone companies to interconnect with VOIP providers in the famous Madison River case, and subjected VOIP providers to Enhanced 911 rules and CALEA, but has shied away from calling them telecommunications services. So the ability of VOIP providers to engage in the kind of “self-help” the FCC said was off-limits when the traditional Title II phone companies tried it. (Actual Order here for us legal buffs).
I’m not making a specific recommendation here because I’m still trying to gather info. As a general rule, I despise regulatory chameleons who shift regulatory treatment based on what their best interest. If you want to be a Title I information service and be able to refuse to connect calls, don’t complain when you get blocked because you are not eligible for mandatory interconnection under Title II. But I’m also well aware that reality matters and its intrinsic messiness means that these inclinations need to be guides rather than hard and fast rules. I am aware of my ignorance of the factual situation enough to know that I’d like to have a lot more information about the nature of the services and the regulatory environment (about which I know only enough to make my usual uninformed guesses).
But the one thing I can say definitively is that the longer this goes on without any FCC response, the more VOIP providers are going to look to save themselves money by blocking these “free conference call” sites.
Stay tuned . . . .
From: “firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com”
Date: 29 Sep 2009 00:05:21 -0000
Subject: [ Speakeasy ] Update to the Speakeasy Terms of Service
Dear Valued Speakeasy Customer,
At Speakeasy, we strive to improve the value of our services and maintain the best customer experience in the industry. To that end, effective today, we are modifying our voice terms of service as follows:
a) Speakeasy will disallow voice traffic to a few selected area and prefix codes (“NPA-NXX”) in North America. Operators of services such as adult lines and “free conferencing” are using these local area codes and are causing additional fees. Instead of passing on these fees to you, we have chosen to maintain the most competitive rates possible by implementing this policy.
b) In addition, we are clarifying our non-standard use clause and will be extending additional options to these specific customers affected.
Speakeasy has made both of these modifications to our Terms of Service in order to better serve you, our customer. These changes are effective immediately. A complete copy of the Speakeasy Master Service Agreement with these changes can be viewed at http://www.speakeasy.net/tos/. Please contact our team at (800) 556-5829 if you have any questions.
Vice President Customer Service
Unlike Google Voice or Skype, Speakeasy’s OneLink Voice VOIP is a replacement dial-tone telephone service which “includes all the voice features you expect from the phone company” including 9-1-1 service.
But the real problem here is the traffic-pumping or traffic-stimulator operations. The Iowa Utlities Board already voted to stop them, the final move is simply pending their written order.
In doing this they throw away any hope of being protected as a ‘common carrier’ whenever a user does something naughty over their link?
I agree with Robb T. Speakeasy Voice IS intended as a replacement for dial-tone phone service. It is different from Google Voice. Speakeasy’s 911 service doesn’t not, in my opinion, comply with the rules. Speakeasy does not change the address on the 911 database to conform to the physical location of the phone. When I called 911 recently, they had my old address. When I called Speakeasy, there was no way to change the address.
Most important, Speakeasy sacrafices its excellent reputation to make a few extra pennies on each customer’s monthly subscriber charges (which are no bargain, BTW). Unfortunately, in Seattle we have very few options. Most other independent VOIP providers have been driven out of business by Qwest’s predatory pricing, or by Comcast’s blocking.