The end of the (free) pipe dream?
What's gone wrong? Your service provider has abandoned the principle of network neutrality - that a particular service should be treated the same no matter who provides it. Unlike traffic shaping, which prioritises time-sensitive services such as internet telephony over less critical ones like music downloads, lack of network neutrality means that you no longer have a free choice of internet telephony service, as your ISP slows down or even refuses to carry the traffic of providers who haven't paid.
Although ISPs in the UK currently maintain neutrality, the issue is becoming a big one in the United States, with Senate hearings being held amid the clash of lobbyists. Service providers want network neutrality to be the law.
Telecommunications infrastructure providers on the other hand, frustrated that their stock is clapped in irons in the hold while that of Google and other service providers admires the view from the crow's nest, are planning a mutiny. They want a piece of that $2 billion-per-quarter treasure chest.
Ed Whitacre, the chief executive of SBC, a large telecoms company, summarised their frustration last year when he said: "Why should the service providers be allowed to use my pipes? The internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!"
So should telecoms companies be allowed to discriminate?